A little blue in Carolina tonight

As I write this evening, I have just finished watching a press conference that has stirred several differing emotions within me. Before I get to that though, I feel as if I should preface these comments with the following. As probably all of you know, I am a proud alum of the University of North Carolina, and if you spend any amount of time around me then I'm positive something about UNC will come up in conversation before very long. This is in part due to the fact that I am truly a fanatic of their athletic program, but also because I truly believe it is one of the greatest institutions of learning in the country. I won't waste your time with all the academic statistics and the national rankings of various academic departments, but a compelling argument can be made that UNC is a premier university.

So as many of you know there have been allegations of members of the football team having illegal contact with a professional agent for several weeks now. Then today amidst the investigation, there are now allegations of academic misconduct involving a tudor and members of the football team as well. From a purely football perspective this is terrible news as it has been speculated that perhaps several star players are implicated in this investigation. What has been hailed as perhaps the best UNC football team in history is quickly becoming one of the most maligned teams in history, assuming these allegations are true. I don't want to discuss the implications of this investigation on the team, but from my perspective as an alum.

When Chancellor Thorp began the press conference by saying it pained him to make the following statements, it was evident on his face that he was sincere in making that claim. As I continued to listen, I was filled with anger that such academic misconduct could take place, disappointed that a tutor and players would willingly commit such misconduct, and also concerned that the university's image as one that prides itself in high academic standards and holds its student-athletes to be just that student-athletes, could be forever tarnished by these events.

At UNC the Honor Code is held in high regard. Basically this is a code of conduct that all students are required to adhere to both inside and outside of the classroom. During orientation and then typically at the beginning of each semester or school year, students are reminded of the Honor Code and the consequences of breaking it. The Honor Code is the heart of integrity at Carolina. Prior to every exam blue book, paper, or project that a student submits they sign the honor code declaring that the work is theirs and theirs alone. So to hear allegations of academic misconduct, which has been speculated to be plagiarism and/or turning in work not their own, is really disappointing and in strict violation of the Honor Code.

As I write this I am actually able to see my own diploma from Carolina, and as I was looking at it these words stood out to me "Be it known that Jeremiah Radford Davis (that's me) having completed the studies and fulfilled the requirements of the faculty for the degree of..." Those words are the beauty of the degree! That's why at graduations the bleachers are packed with family members and friends there to support your academic achievements. The honors and awards that graduates receive are for the work they have achieved. To submit work that is not your own and receive credit for it, is against every principle and standard of any academic institution. Not only that but it also lessens the prestige of a degree that others have received from that institution.

All that to say that I am extremely disappointed in these accusations and I do believe that the university will properly conduct the investigation. However if these accusations are true, no matter whether they are against the star players or a player that will never see the field of play, these players should be removed from the team and strongly considered for expulsion from the university. I realize some may think that is harsh, but I say the standards of student-athletes should certainly be the same as that of other students, if not higher, because for many observers the student-athletes are the only image of a university that is seen. I also know that if I had personally been faced with academic misconduct as a student those are the penalties I would have faced and these players should face those same penalties. It is truly an honor and a privilege to wear the Carolina blue and I hope those student-athletes see it as such.

No matter what the fallout of this investigation is, there is one thing I am certain of, as the Carolina alma mater says "I'm a Tar Heel born, I'm a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I'm a Tar Heel dead!"


Winter Olympic memories

After 18 days, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics came to a close today and what an exciting and memorable event it was. The games were filled with both jubilation and disappointment; heroism and tragedy; comebacks and collapses.

Before the games began there were questions about whether the city and the venues were ready and then there were numerous weather concerns over whether the warmest olympic host city in history would have enough snow to even contest some of the events, and if not for today's technology that might well have been the case. Helicopters flew in snow, that hundreds of volunteers raked and sculpted on the various slopes. Dry ice was placed under the various jumps and mounds, that were made out of wood, in order to maintain their integrity.

However just hours prior to the opening ceremony, an unimaginable tragedy struck as a Georgian (the former Soviet state) luger died during his final training run. This somber cloud hung over not only the opening ceremony but also the first several days. The Georgian team stayed to compete, but obviously did so with heavy hearts and without the passion that they would have otherwise, as suddenly there were more important things in life than just competing in the games. At least one Georgian athlete even withdrew from his event because he lacked the focus and drive to even compete after losing a countryman, teammate, and friend. Several of the other competitors in both luge and bobsled (they run on the same track) verbally expressed fear in sliding down the track after this athlete's death and traveling at speeds of near 100 mph, on what is considered the fastest track in the world.

Many writers, athletes, fans, and even the IOC themselves wondered if these games could shake the image of death. And while that will still be a major part of the storyline of these games, many memorable moments unfolded that in my opinion will be remembered at least as much if not more than this death when we look back on these games in the future. The following are my top 10 moments of the Vancouver games:

10. Two of the events I was looking forward to watching prior to the games were new additions that arose out of the popularity of the X-Games and a younger generation of athletes. These events, ski cross and snowboard cross, did not disappoint! The action was incredible as 4 racers skied down a course full of jumps and turns, jockeying for that first position. Not only was the racing itself exciting but also crashes were just spectacular, as skiers wiped each other out and on one occasion I saw them collide in mid air. I certainly hope that these events remain part of the Olympic schedule for years to come, because they have definitely gained a new fan in me!

9. Unlike the summer games, I personally have never even attempted any of the events and therefore do not have a great understanding of the skill required to succeed at such a high level. I have only been skiing once in my life and have only ice skated maybe 2 or 3 times at most. So needless to say my chance at being a winter olympian is basically less than zero, since every event either requires you to skate or ski. Every event that is but one, curling. At last there is an olympic sport that any old, unathletic person can compete in at the highest level. Although this was not the first olympics I have ever watched it in, I did begin to enjoy it more and more as I watched during my lunch break each day. In fact I even found out that Raleigh has its very own curling club! I'm tempted to go give it a try. I know it is harder than it looks, but seriously I think with a little practice anyone could get fairly good.

8. The most talked about injury coming into the games, was the shin injury to US skier Lindsey Vonn. Questions abounded on whether she could even compete, but you knew she was going to give it go after spending 4 years training of this moment. She then went out in her first run and proved all the skeptics wrong as she put in the run of her life, winning gold in the downhill. The highlight for me though was watching her elation upon crossing the finish line and realizing she had accomplished her dream. Her interview was priceless as she couldn't contain her emotions; she smiled, shouted, and cried all in the same interview. She went on to win one more medal as well as have a couple of crashes, however she got the gold she came for and she is now the face of the US ski team and will most definitely earn a lot of money for her accomplishments and looks over the next few years. As a side note, I give a shout out to the rest of the US ski team including Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller as they both won multiple medals also.

7. Honestly the figure skating is probably one of my least favorite Olympic events. In fact the following thought crossed my mind, if you are a young boy who likes to skate why would you take up figure skating instead of say ice hockey or speed skating. Then beyond that if you decide to be a figure skater why would you choose to do singles instead of pairs where at least you get to twirl around some pretty girl all the time. I honestly do not understand. With all that said, I did stay up one night to watch the men's figure skating finals out of curiosity to see how American Evan Lysacek would do. I have absolutely no clue the difference in a triple toe loop vs. a triple lutz vs. a triple saokow (or however you spell it) vs. a triple flip vs. whatever other kind of jump they do. Pretty much all I know is that if you don't fall then you've got a shot to win. So as I watched Lysacek skate well I thought he had at least a shot to beat the defending champion, Russian Evgeni Plushenko, and then it was a memorable moment when he actually did. However what I'll remember most is the war of words that occurred afterwards as Plushenko said he had no doubt that his performance won gold and that he should have since he landed a quad jump and Lysacek did not. This continued to the point where Plushenko actually awarded himself (whether actual or not I'm not sure) a platinum medal, which was supposedly to be higher than the gold, for his performance. Seriously? What a terrible show of sportsmanship on his part. Perhaps I enjoyed this American gold more than any other even if it did come from a man wearing a sequined outfit.

6. Unbelievable is the best word I can use to describe Shaun White's gold winning performance in the halfpipe. Even for someone who knows nothing about the sport it was evident he was the best. He went so much higher than his competitors, his spins and flips looked cleaner, and he just did it with so much ease. He was so good that he didn't even need to complete his final run because he already had the gold medal wrapped up. But what did he do for his last run? Put on a show, that bettered his previous score and included his new signature move, the double mctwist. What exactly is that? No it's not the new burger at McDonalds. It is like a 1260 with 2 flips or something like that, I don't exactly remember. All I know is that he's the only one to ever try it and land it so that's pretty cool. I can't wait to see what he'll try in 4 years!

5. The US hockey team entered these games as underdogs and they were not expected to contend for a medal. However when they went through pool play undefeated including a 5-3 beatdown of the vaunted Canadian team, the whole world took notice that this team was much better than anticipated. They continued their strong play all the way to the gold medal final, behind the stellar play of goalie Ryan Miller and a group of young first time olympians. The comparisons were inevitable to the "Miracle on Ice" of 1980, the last US team to win gold. In my opinion that was a bit of stretch as this team was comprised of all professional hockey players, however they seemed to have destiny on their side. They faced the Canadians in the final, in what was perhaps the most anticipated and watched hockey game in history. When the Americans tied the game with only seconds remained in regulation I believed it really was their destiny to win, however that didn't take place and the US team settled for the silver medal, but it was nonetheless a remarkable run and truly gave the US hockey program some respect around the world and with such a young team, they have to be considered early medal contenders for 2014.

4. Coming into these games Bonnie Blair held the record for total medals won by a US winter olympic athlete. As the games end that title now belongs to Apolo Anton Ohno with 8 total medals. Short Track speedskating once again showed why it is a favorite of mine with the speed, the crashes, the disqualifications, and the relays which are as close to chaotic as any sport can possibly get. Ohno proved himself once again as one of the greatest US winter olympians of all time in winning 3 medals during the games and will forever be remembered in olympic history. Perhaps even be known more for his athletic feats than winning "dancing with the stars". Congrats to Ohno as the most decorated US winter olympian ever!

3. Only once before had the US won the total medal count at a winter olympic games. Now you can make that twice as they not only won the total medal count but also did so in record form by winning 37 medals which set a new winter olympic record also. Granted there are more medal events today than there were in previous years, however that takes nothing away from the greatest medal haul in US history and olympic history. This was truly a historic olympics for the Americans in many ways, and it had to be encouraging and exciting for the USOC to see all the money and hard work put in by all of their employees in building the US team pay off. They even won medals in events that typically have had poor US showings and based on that they have to be considered favorites looking forward to 4 years from now.

2. If I were to mention Nordic Combined to most of you, you would have no clue as to what that was. Well you may be surprised to learn that it is an olympic event, in fact there are 3 Nordic Combined events. These events have been competed in since the very first winter olympic games, and the US had never won a medal of any kind. That is a pretty incredible streak of futility, one even the Chicago Cubs could understand. The Nordic Combined is a mixture of ski jumping and cross country skiing and they do what they call the normal hill, the large hill, and the team event. With incredible performances, the US medaled in all 3 events, winning 3 silvers and a gold. In my opinion this was truly the biggest surprise of the games, and I was so impressed that I actually looked up their names, so mad props to the US Nordic Combined team of Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong, and Johnny Spillane.
The US team also had one more major breakthrough at these games in winning their first gold medal in bobsled since 1948. The US 4-man team led from the first run to the last in winning the gold fairly easily in just another highlight for the US team in these games.

1. As I stated earlier I don't care that much for figure skating, but this story completely stole my heart and is without a doubt the greatest story of these olympic games. I'm sure most of you have heard the story of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette, but for those who have not...She was considered a medal contender coming into the olympics and then just days before she was to skate, her mother, while at the games suffered a massive heart attack and died. Rochette decided that her mom's wish would be for her to continue to compete. Oh and compete she did. As she skated the short program on home ice just like 2 days after her mother's death, I can't even comprehend the emotions she must have been feeling. But she skated the performance of her life, and upon finishing received a standing ovation from the arena and then broke out into tears. I have to say that in watching it, I cried along with her when she finished. While she did not get the gold that most of the world would have loved to see, she did win a bronze and once again I cried as she did. WOW! Thats all I can say!

So those are my 2010 Olympic memories, it was truly a great 2 weeks of sports and reminded me once again why I am proud to be an American and why I love sports. I look forward to watching again in 2012 in London and 2014 in Sochi!


The Olympics

Tomorrow the XXI Winter Olympiad begins in Vancouver! To me the Olympics are truly a highlight of the sports landscape. Not only do you get to see the finest athletes in the world compete on a single stage, but they do so for the love of their sport, and most importantly for the love of their country. Many athletes that have won multiple team and individual championships along with multiple individual accolades, claim that an Olympic gold medal is the greatest accomplishment of their athletic career. Take for example the 1992 US men's basketball team. This team was a who's who, of basketball with many of the members first ballot hall of famers. They blew the competition away but they were all so proud to wear that USA jersey, carry the American flag, and stand on the gold medal podium while listening to the national anthem. What an experience! Moments like that are why I love the olympics.

For example two years ago at the summer olympics in Beijing, I vividly remember watching Michael Phelps win a race by .01 seconds and me standing and yelling like a maniac at the TV. I remember watching Jason Lezak lead the US team to a stunning come from behind victory in the 4x100 relay. I remember staying up into the wee hours of the morning as Misty May and Kerri Walsh won gold. I remember Usain Bolt setting records in the 100m and 200m that may never be broken. These are just a few of the moments that vividly stick in my mind. It's exciting to pull for all my fellow country men and women to succeed on this international stage and watch the tears roll down their face as they have the US flag draped around them and the national anthem plays. It is also exciting to see the underdogs do well, or at least hear their story, i.e. the Jamaican bobsled team.

So the following is what I am looking forward to watching the next 2 weeks in Vancouver.

1. The opening and closing ceremonies.
These are always spectacular ceremonies with fire works and shows and all the other amenities to spice up the ceremony, which are all well and good. However I love watching the athletes file into the stadium dressed in the colors of their homeland. Especially the one athlete who gets to carry his country's flag, what an honor! Also it's fascinating to watch the smaller countries that may only have 1 or 2 athletes competing, and you get to hear their story, as they are truly the pride of their nation.

2. Ski Jumping.
This sport is truly fascinating to me as these skiers fly down the ramp and jump hundreds of feet and then sticking a landing. This must take incredible concentration and a lot of guts too.

3. Curling.
I'm sure many of you are familiar with this "sport" since it's inception in the olympics a few years ago. Maybe I like it because I think it is the only winter olympic sport I could ever do myself, but also I love the strategy of it. How each team places their stones to either score points or block their opponents. I still don't understand how the sweeping works but it is exciting.

4. Speed Skating.
Watching the long track skating is where I first grew to enjoy the sport, as I watched Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, icons of the 80's and 90's, win gold medals. Even today Shani Davis is a medal favorite in several events. However once short-track was invented, it added a whole other dimension to speed skating. It is truly chaos as the skaters battle for position in lap after lap around the oval. Plus there are always some spectacular crashes and multiple tight finishes. Also if things go as expected Apollo Anton Ohno will be the new record holder for most winter olympic medals by an American.

5. Lindsey Vonn.
America's most accomplished downhill skier, will be competing (hopefully) in all 5 downhill skiing events. She does have an injury that could prevent her from participating in some of them, but she is favored in at least 2 of the races. A couple of medals could make her the USA's greatest women's skier ever. And no I'm not looking forward to watching her merely because she was in SI's swimsuit issue this year! I just heard about that on SportsCenter.

6. Snowboard Cross and Ski Cross.
These new sports are tremendously exciting to watch, as skiers and snowboarders race not against the clock but against each other. They are going so fast through moguls, jumps, turns, etc. that a crash is just waiting to happen. I don't really understand skiing or snowboarding, but I do understand that the first one to cross the finish line wins, and that is exciting!

7. Luge, Bobsled, and Skeleton.
Watching racers climb in a sled and go flying down a sheet of ice as they race against the clock, is a blast to watch. Particularly the Skeleton where racers lie on their stomachs, face forward, about 6 inches off the ice at speeds of up to 70 mph. It is just insane, but so awesome to watch.
8. The unknown stars.
In every olympics there becomes a breakout star that no one expected, and their stories are fascinating to hear. Who knows who it will be this year, maybe an american biathlete winning the first medal ever in the sport, or the men's hockey team pulling out another "miracle" and winning gold over the favored, host Canadians, or a medalist from an African athlete (I don't believe that has ever occurred at a winter olympics), or perhaps someone we have never heard of but in 2 weeks will be a household name forever.

I hope that each of you will have the opportunity to watch some of the XXI Winter Olympiad over the next 2 weeks, as you can tell it is truly one of my favorite sporting events ever, and even though the Summer Olympics are typically much more popular because the athletes are more well known and the sports are ones that we have grown up playing and watching. However I believe that if you watch this olympics you will truly grow to love and enjoy them just as much!


Top Sports Books

I am currently reading a very good book called "High Crimes" (2008) by Michael Kodas, which describes in detail the corruption, greed, and double crossing nature of many guides and climbers on Mount Everest each year. It truly takes away a lot of the romanticizing of climbing to the top of the world. Many of the guides and sherpas that make the climb possible for their clients are simply in it for the money. They seem to have no qualms about leaving someone on the mountain for dead as long as they are paid. As Entertainment Weekly said in their review of the book, "...Kodas forever dispels whatever romantic ideas readers may hold about the great Himalayan peak."

So in light of reading this it made me begin thinking about the greatest sports books that I personally have ever read. First I must say that I am not an avid reader, nor have I read that many books. However I do enjoy a good sports read and I have developed my Top 10 list of favorite sports books. Trust me I won't go into great detail and ruin the book for you if you ever decide to read it.

10. "Papa Jack" (1983) by Randy Roberts
Jack Johnson was the first great African-American boxer in an era where boxing and really all sports for that matter were for white athletes only. In the early 1900's as America was racially divided by segregation and Jim Crow laws, black athletes were not allowed to compete against their white counterparts in most cases. Johnson had a tremendous record through his early years and soon began wishing for a chance at the heavyweight title, held by white fighters who refused to fight him. The book finally climaxes when he gets his shot at the world title by fighting James Jeffries in 1910. Jeffries was undefeated and deemed the "Great White Hope" by promoters. I won't spoil the outcome for you, but this book not only gives a good history of early boxing in America but also provides a glimpse into the segregated south through the eyes of sports.

9. "3 Nights in August" (2005) by Buzz Bissinger
I first read an excerpt of this book in Sports Illustrated and I thought it was so good that I had to go read the entire book. The book is based on a 3 game series between bitter rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, who are also in the middle of a tight pennant race. The rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox usually gets attention as the greatest baseball rivalry, but if that's true then the Cardinals and Cubs are a close second. Bissinger provides an unprecedented behind the scenes look at the locker room and the intricacies of being a baseball manager. If you enjoy baseball strategy and the decisions behind when to pull a pitcher, hit and run, double steal, suicide squeeze, and retaliate a hit by pitch then this is a must read. It is a fascinating look into the great baseball mind of Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals.

8. "Eight Men Out" (1963) by Eliot Asinof
The 1919 Chicago White Sox are considered one of the greatest baseball teams of all time. However they did not win the World Series that year, losing the best of 9 series 5 games to 3 to the Cincinnati Reds. No big deal you say, the best team doesn't always win. That is most definitely true, however when the team favored throws the series then that turns it into one of the greatest sports scandals of all time. The White Sox owner Charles Cominskey was notoriously stingy in paying his players, even for bonuses after winning the Series. Knowing this a prominent gambler, approached several of the star players on the White Sox offering them a large sum of money if they threw the series. The players agreed, and has since been referred to as "The Black Sox Scandal". As the series went on people began to question if there was a fix. However the gamblers didn't have the money to actually pay the players and so they began to try and win the series, but it was too late. They lost the series, many players never got paid, and those involved were banned from baseball for life. This is a very interesting read on a scandal that had a major impact on the game of baseball, most notably the installation of the first commissioner of baseball. There was a movie made, of the same name, which I haven't seen but I say read the book.

7. "Alive" (1974) by Piers Paul Read
In 1972 the Uruguay rugby team was headed to Chile for a match. Little did they know their flight over the Andes would be devastating. The plane crashed in the mountains and many of the passengers died immediately, those who did survive the crash soon faced the fight of their lives as they attempted to survive on what few clothes and supplies they had on the plane in the snow capped mountains. The conditions were harsh and they very soon ran out of food. This led to a decision that many regretted and all had to deal with for the rest of their lives, as they decided to eat the flesh of their deceased teammates. 16 members survived for over 70 days, living in the wreckage of the plane and eating the flesh. The book is kind of a slow read for the first half but the story of how a couple of men walked out of the mountains to rescue and the attitude of hope that several parents of the players had is amazing. It is unbelievable story of survival!

6. "The Natural" (1952) by Bernard Malamud
I read this book in high school and actually remember very little about it. However it is an incredible fictional narrative of the immortal Roy Hobbs. Hobbs is on his way to a tryout when his career suddenly gets side-tracked by a strange course of events. Many years later he recovers and makes his comeback. Using his bad "Wonderboy" made from a tree that was struck by lightning, he literally knocks the cover off of the ball in one at bat and suddenly becomes a hero. Part of the story is a bit unrealistic but a great baseball novel nonetheless.

5. "Blue Blood" (2005) by Art Chansky
This account gives you the history behind the UNC vs. Duke basketball rivalry and what makes it the greatest in all of college sports. It looks at many different aspects of the rivalry including the proximity of the schools (9 miles apart), the legendary coaches, the recruiting battles over the same players, the great games the teams have played through the years, and the hatred that has developed between fans of both Universities. Granted if you're not a UNC or Duke fan then you might not enjoy the book as much as I did, however I think any college basketball fan will enjoy reading about many details of the rivalry that are not as publicly known.

4. "A Walk in the Woods" (1999) by Bill Bryson
I know some of you might not consider hiking as worthy of being in the sports book genre, but I disagree, and this is a hilarious account of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). Bryson has been in England for the past 20 years, and upon returning to America he decides to reacquaint himself with the US by hiking the AT. The trip is full of poor planning, odd circumstances, and most importantly highlighted by Bryson's companion, Katz, who is an overweight, ill-prepared, and complaining friend that accompanies Bryson on his endeavors. A must read for anyone who enjoys hiking or for anyone wanting a good laugh. One of the best books I've ever read.

3. "The Last Best League" (2004) by Jim Collins
The Cape Cod Baseball League attracts the best college baseball players from around the country each year. The opportunity to play in this league is a tremendous honor and for many provides them the needed exposure to be signed by Major League Baseball, as numerous scouts attend each game played throughout the league. The league is unique in many ways as the players use wooden bats, unlike the aluminum used in college, they stay with host families provided to them by their team, and they work local jobs during the day. The teams are located in small New England towns and going to the games is truly a family affair. This book not only provides insight into the recruitment of college baseball players but it describes a baseball league that is as it was intended to be, America's Pastime!

2. "Friday Night Lights" (1990) by H.G. Bissinger
Forget the TV show and the movie with Tim McGraw and Billy Bob Thorton all of the same name. This book is what started it all and it is one of the greatest sports books of all time. Bissinger follows Permian High's football team in Texas for an entire season and looks at the importance of high school football in Texas. The book gives a detailed account of the season, which doesn't end the way you would expect a typical sports book to, but most riveting is the impact football has on both the school and the community. Football is certainly king, and Permian's games would draw as many fans as some college teams would. The entire community would shut down on game days and signs and posters of good luck would appear all over town. However this passion for football led to issues. There was alleged changing of grades within the school to keep star players academically eligible, or even making exceptions for them in class so they would remain eligible. The book also deals with divisions due to racism within the community, that led to conflict over playing time. Were the best players truly playing or were some players benched due to race. There is also a subplot of injury to one of the star players, who never quite recovers and ends up quitting the team. All of these things make this a terrific read. In fact the town of Odessa thought it displayed them in such a poor light that Bissinger was banned from the town for almost 15 years after the book was published. Also in my opinion the movie is terrible and not at all a good representation of the book, so don't base your opinion on the movie alone!

1. "Into Thin Air" (1996) by Jon Krakauer
The #1 book on my list is a true account chronicling the 1996 season on Mount Everest, which turned out to be the deadliest season ever on the mountain. If you've ever had a desire to mountain climb or even just for adventure then this book is for you. It is a riveting account of a summit attempt that succeeds but quickly turns to disaster due to competition and untrained climbers that pay big bucks to climb to the top of the world. The book gives fantastic detail on the intricacies of the climb itself as well as describing the dangers and pitfalls that can quickly lead to death while on the mountain. Krakauer actually does make the summit but the experience contains events that he will never forget. A riveting account that makes for the best sports book I've ever read!

So that's my top 10. I would highly recommend each book on this list and could even loan most of them to any of you that are interested in reading them. Also as with most top 10 lists you may not agree, so if there's a book I've left off the list (first off know it's probably because I haven't read it) then let me know and I will most definitely check it out at some point.

Happy Reading!


Unrivaled Passion

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a high school football state championship game. The game itself was one of the best football games at any level that I've ever watched, however what struck me more than anything was excitement and passion that was exuded by everyone in the stadium that day. Let me explain...

First off take the players. For 99.9% of them this game was the pinnacle of their sports career. Despite most of the players growing up as a child having dreams of playing sports in college or professionally, by the time they reach high school most of them are smart enough to realize that they will never play on an organized team beyond high school. (Sorry college intramurals and church softball don't count!) So the opportunity that these young men had to play for a state championship in a college stadium, that is 10-15 times bigger than any stadium they had ever played in previously, is something they will never forget. Once the game began the passion they played with was unmatched! Guys were flying all over the field making tackles, breaking up passes, diving full out for catches, and using every ounce of strength they had to break a tackle. Every yard and every play mattered. This was the epitome of laying it all on the line! Then as the game ended, there was such a dichotomy of emotions. The winning team was dogpiling and congratulating their teammates, coaches, and fans on the victory of a lifetime. While the losing team was in tears as they tried to console each other on a gutwrenching defeat.

Next lets take the fans. Nowhere else would you see an entire town, or county for that matter that would support a team like this. Literally the towns must have been empty, everyone was at the game to cheer on their local boys. Homemade signs and noisemakers littered the stands. Former letter winners were there with their letter jackets on, living vicariously a dream that they wished for decades ago. These football teams had united a town and a community. People who would never be seen together, were standing next to year other cheering, and total strangers were hugging in celebration of a great play. It reminded me of watching the movie "Remember the Titans" where a racially divided community was brought together by a football team that continued to win in spite of adversity. That's not just Hollywood, sports can draw a community together perhaps better than any of the most thought out policies or initiatives. Once the game ended the emotions of the fans were equally as strong as those of the players, the jubilation of victory and the agony of defeat were just as commonplace in the stands as on the field.

This passion is what makes high school sports so special if you ask me. Sure the quality of the game isn't great, it's not often flashy with highlight reel plays, in fact high school games can be somewhat brutal to watch at times, but you get kids that are living a dream. When they put that jersey on and run out of the locker room, they are the pride of the school and of the town and that's what makes it special! They don't play for money or for fame, they play for the love of the game! When they win it's elating, when they lose it hurts and they cry.

Lastly you have the seniors who after their last game of the year take that jersey off for one last time. Those of you who have experienced it yourself know how painful that feeling is, you just sit in the locker room as long as you possibly can savoring every last minute, knowing that you'll never strap 'em on ever again. Then unless you were one of the lucky few to win a state championship you replay those pivotal moments over and over again thinking of all the things you would do differently if you just had one more chance.

That passion is the joy of sports!


Top 10 of the 2000's

As we enter the end of a decade, everyone in the sports world has been giving various top 10 lists of the past decade on many different topics...so in keeping with that theme here is my list. My list is based solely on things that I remember from the past decade. So without further delay:

10. Roger Federer wins 15th Major Championship
As a young tennis player that sprung onto the scene by defeating Pete Sampras early in the decade, he closed it out by winning his record 15th Grand Slam Championship to break Sampras' record of 14. He was truly as dominate a tennis player as there has ever been, and his rivalry with Rafael Nadal has certainly been good for a struggling sport. Even though I'm personally not much of a tennis fan, big props to Federer for what he has done!

9. Lance Armstrong wins 6 straight Tour De France titles (2000-2005)
In my opinion this is one of the more unbelievable streaks in all of sports and I would be shocked if it is ever matched. He actually won 7 in a row beginning in 1999, but that was last millenium! Armstrong is undoubtedly the greatest cycler of all time, and one of the greatest athletes of the decade. Not only did he win 6 straight titles, but then he retired and took up marathon running, which he was pretty decent at as well. A great memory of the decade!

8. Barry Bonds breaks MLB career home run record
On August 7, 2007 Bonds hit his 756th career home run, breaking the long standing record of 755 held by Hank Aaron. He finished the season with a career total of 762. Bonds retired after that season, but the controversy surrounding his career still swirls. Bonds' name has been in the same sentence as steroids from the moment the scandal broke in Major League Baseball and many believe that this record should either not stand or have an asterisk next to it. Despite the controversy Bonds solidified himself as one of the greatest hitters of all time and deserves his place in the Hall of Fame. As a side note Bonds also broke the single season HR record with 73 in 2001. Both of these are records that may never be broken. No matter how you feel personally about Bonds these are undoubtedly incredible records that he set this decade.

7. Emotional returns to the field
Tragedies dominate the American news headlines of the decade with 2 of the biggest being the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf coast in 2005. Sports helped play a tremendous role in unifying a country and providing a sense of relief and hope to those cities hardest hit by such tragedies.

Baseball returned to New York City ten days after the 9/11 attacks as the New York Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves. In an emotional pre-game ceremony remembering those who were killed and honoring those who helped save lives, the game itself seemed an afterthought, but instead provided one of the lasting memories of the decade. The Mets trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the 8th when local hero Mike Piazza stepped to the plate and in one swing, returned New York to normalcy for a split second and provided a small sliver of hope and joy, as he crushed the game winning home run as the Mets went on to win the game 3-2. What a fitting return of baseball and at the same time a great reminder that there is much more to life than sports.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in the late summer of 2005 and ravaged the Gulf coast particularly the city of New Orleans, it was merely days before the opening of the NFL season. However in New Orleans, football was the furthest from many citizens minds as homes were destroyed, hundreds were killed, and flooding was incredulous. The Superdome, which is home to the New Orleans Saints, was not only severely damaged structurally but it turned into the largest shelter the US has ever seen. Thousands of people lived here for weeks before they could return to look for their homes and loved ones. The arena was an absolute wreck and the Saints were displaced for the entire year, as they played and practiced in various places throughout the year. So on the night of September 25, 2006, football and the Saints returned to the Superdome to a sold out, rocking stadium! The buildup was "Super Bowl esque" and it did not disappoint. I remember very little about the game except that the Saints won, but the reaction of the fans to their beloved team coming home truly set chills down my spine, and you just had that feeling that there was no way the Saints would lose.

These 2 events are truly memorable not so much for the games themselves, but for the way the return of sports reunited a city and a fan base, and also brought a joy to a city that desperately needed something positive at the time!

6. Underdogs rising up
The decade was filled with huge upsets, with underdog teams making championship runs far beyond our wildest imagination, and teams putting forth unbelievable efforts. No way will I be able to mention them all but here are a few of the most dramatic and unbelievable underdogs that I remember of the decade.
  • George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006, defeating perennial powers Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut along the way.
  • Davidson's run to the Elite 8 behind the unbelievable Stephan Curry in 2008.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays making the World Series in 2008.
  • Appalachian State defeating Michigan at "The Big House" in 2007. Even though Michigan ended up not being the team everyone thought they would that year, this was undoubtedly on the top 5 greatest upsets of all time!
  • Boise State defeating Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. What an incredible game and all of the trick plays that worked to perfection was unbelievable! Not only did the game have a fairy tale ending but then the star player goes and proposes to the head cheerleader after the game!!!
  • New York Giants defeat the previously undefeated New England Patriots to win Super Bowl XLII. One of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in history
5. Roy Williams returns to UNC and wins two NCAA Championships
I realize that for most people this wouldn't make your top 1o or even 100 of the decade. However for a UNC alum and fan who suffered through the worst season in UNC basketball history this is a huge deal, as Williams returned the glory to UNC basketball once again and led the team to championships in 2005 and 2009!

4. Great Super Bowls
A lot of times the "big game" ends up being a "big disappointment". However this decade that was not the case for the most part. It began with the 2000 game where the Titans came up 18 inches short of the tying touchdown. Two years later we see the beginning of the Patriots domination as they defeated the Rams by a field goal in their first of 3 titles in 4 years. Then the 2008 game saw the Giants end the Patriots pursuit of a perfect season on a Plaxico Burress touchdown in the final minute. Then last year as the Steelers won on a last second touchdown to defeat the Cardinals. Only 2 of the 10 games this decade were decided by more than 12 points, which is the way the "big game" should be!

3. Scandals
As much as I hate to put this in my top 10 it without a doubt encompasses many of the defining sports moments of the decade. The baseball steroid scandal that included the Mitchell Report, players testifying before Congress, and the fallout with players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez being accused or being guilty to juicing. The BALCO situation that included Bonds but also many of the top US track stars. Then there was the Michael Vick dog fighting situation that ended with him serving 18 months in prison. NBA referee Tim Donaghy admitted to betting on games that he officiated and spent time in prison also. Ron Artest went into the stands during a game and started a brawl unlike anything that had ever been seen before. Then there was the Duke University lacrosse scandal, where several players were accused of raping a woman at a party. What actually happened may never be truly known but it turned into a circus with all the media attention and ended with District Attorney Mike Nifong being disbarred. Lastly just a few weeks ago we have the Tiger Woods admission of infidelity. These scandals and many others seemed to always be in the sports headlines during the past decade, and sadly it will probably only continue.

2. Great Comebacks
There were certainly many great comebacks throughout the past decade, but here are 3 that particularly stand out. First the 2006 Rose Bowl, as Vince Young led Texas to a last second comeback victory over USC as they overcame 12 points in the last 4 minutes of the game to win the National Championship. Then the 2008 men's basketball national championship as Kansas trailed basically the entire game, hit the typing 3 pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime and then eventually win in the extra period. Lastly and most impressively was when the Boston Red Sox overcame a 3 games to 0 deficit to win the 2004 ALCS over the Yankees. Not only was this an unbelievable comeback but a team trailing 3-0 had never won a series before then! Then the Red Sox went on to win the World Series and end their 86 year curse/drought.

1. The amazing 2008 Olympics
As a disclaimer, the Olympics are probably my favorite sporting event, but the 2008 Summer Olympics was something special. First there was Michael Phelps winning a record 8 gold medals, including several world record swims. Then there were 2 of the greatest moments I can ever remember as Jason Lezak charged from behind to win the 4x100 freestyle relay for the Americans, in a moment that I have personally cheered as much for as a UNC basketball championship. Followed by Michael Phelps winning the 100m butterfly by .01 seconds. Never have I been so excited for swimming in my life. This was followed by Usain Bolt blowing away the world records in both the 100m and 200m races. His 100m performance was as dominating as anything I have ever seen! Even just thinking about these moments excite me again!

That's my top 10 of the 2000's. If you feel that I left something out then let me know, I'd love to reminisce with you in your sports memories of the decade! Happy New Year!


A Dynasty Continues

If you pull out your trusty Webster’s dictionary and look up the word dynasty you will find the following definition: a family or group that maintains power for several generations. Some common examples of dynasties would be the Ming dynasty of China and the ancient dynasties of Egypt with the pharaohs. However when I think of dynasty neither of these are the first things that come to mind, I immediately think sports.

The concept of a sports dynasty is an easily debated subject because there are no clear-cut criteria for a team to qualify as a dynasty. Has a team achieved the status of dynasty by consistently dominating their league for years, but may not have won championships, i.e. Atlanta Braves 1991-2005, 14 straight division championships but only 1 World Series title, or the Buffalo Bills 1990-1993, 4 straight AFC championships but 0 Super Bowl titles. These are 2 current examples of tremendous teams with amazing consistency, but in my opinion they are certainly not a dynasty. To be considered one you must win multiple successive championships, end of discussion.

This past weekend another chapter was added to the greatest dynasty in all of sports, and it is one that many people may not even be aware of. Before I give you the team here are some incredible statistics based on 28 years of competition:

20 National championships, which means 71% of the time they win a championship!

Appeared in the playoffs all 28 seasons and advanced to the final 4 in 25 of those seasons.

Appeared in 23 of 28 national championship games.

Is 106-7 in NCAA tournament play, that’s a 93% winning percentage.

Have outscored opponents 3,014 to 359 in the history of the program, that’s a margin of 2,654 goals!!!

The team I’m referring to is the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team, who just won their 20th NCAA championship in 28 years on Sunday. This has to be the most incredible streak in sports history and it doesn’t appear that this streak is going to end anytime soon. Coach Anson Dorrance, who has coached since day one of the program, is a master tactician, motivator, and recruiter. I realize that there have been some questions about his behavior with his players off the field, which may be true, I cannot say, but from a pure coaching standpoint he is head and shoulders above others in his sport.

There are certainly some other amazing sports feats in history. Take for instance the Chicago Bulls from 1993-98, they won 6 titles in 8 years, and the two years they didn’t win some guy named Michael Jordan was playing baseball in Birmingham. The UCLA men’s basketball team from 1964-75 won 10 championships in 12 years. Even more recently the New England Patriots from 2001-04 won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and even currently you could take the Appalachian State football team that is in the running for their 4th FCS championship in the last 5 years.

There have been some amazing individual accomplishments as well such as Lance Armstrong 7 straight Tour de France titles, Jimmie Johnson 4 straight Nascar titles, and Roger Federer’s run of tennis grand slams, but I would argue that it is much harder to win in team sports where it requires the effort of multiple players working together and often requires more than a superstar to win a championship. Which is why UNC soccer is such an incredible sports feat. With the exception of UCLA, which I would say is the second greatest sports dynasty ever; the core players were the same. The Bulls had Jordan and Pippen, the Patriots had Brady, and even App St. has Armani Edwards. UNC soccer just continues to win with different players year after year after year, that’s what makes it an incredible feat and the greatest dynasty in all of sports. I guess former UNC basketball coach had it right when he said that UNC is first and foremost a soccer school! Congrats to the Lady Tar Heels!!