COLUMN: Taking The 'Almost' Out Of Underdog
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 00:10
My second grade Halloween is one that will live on in infamy.
While the rest of my elementary school peers walked the hallways sporting the latest ghoulish fashions for our Halloween Parade, I donned an old baseball jersey, my little league uniform pants, and a painted handlebar mustache over my lip.
I was going rogue.
And by rogue, I mean dressing up like legendary catcher Mike Piazza of the New York Mets—my childhood sports hero on my all-time favorite baseball team—one day after coming up short in a World Series matchup against an opponent I won’t name (fine, it was the Yankees).
Throughout that day, I was jeered by my classmates and some pretty intimidating fifth-graders, who all kept reminding me that my lovable losers had just come up short of a major baseball upset. Worse than that, Piazza’s near-home run on the warning track was the game’s final out.
So, like any 7-year-old diehard would do, I began defending my team and Piazza—while dressed-up like Piazza.
I kept reminding them that if the wind at Shea Stadium was blowing out just a little bit more, or if Mariano Rivera hadn’t showed up to play that night, that ball would’ve been a game-winning round-tripper.
As much as I vouched for my team, the sound of “almost” echoed in my words, describing how close they came to glory only to be turned away at the end. It’s a phenomenon that’s followed me over my last 13 years of Mets martyrdom, as my team almost won titles if not for month-long losing spells.
Fittingly, it has also followed me over to Chestnut Hill as a Boston College student.
Over the past few years, the Eagles have been defined by hard-fought battles they weren’t meant to win—not simply losing, but losing heartbreakers. From the vantage point of my “almost”-plagued sports history, it’s like a perpetual Groundhog Day.
Look back to last year, and you’ll remember how a young BC men’s basketball team had national powerhouse Duke on the ropes with only a couple of minutes left. Everyone packed in a resurgent Conte Forum was counting the minutes down to an upset that could’ve reenergized an entire fan base. Even a few go-ahead Duke foul shots later, it seemed that guard Olivier Hanlan was destined to drive through the lane and sink a buzzer-beater.
But when his shot missed the mark, the moment became another “almost.”
If your memory can’t reach back that far, then just go back to this past Saturday. When the Eagle football squad held Clemson’s offensive machine to three points in the first half, I couldn’t help but sense an upset. And as Alex Amidon sprinted 69 yards to the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown, I was nearly convinced that BC could hold off the country’s No. 3 team for one more quarter.
Then the Tigers stormed back in Death Valley, and the deflating feeling of could’ve, should’ve, would’ve returned.
Yet there was no sense of “almost” at head coach Steve Addazio’s postgame press conference. His players weren’t glum, but mad. He vowed to turn almost into did.
“This program’s going to be about winning,” Addazio said. “It’s about coming down here and winning these games.
“That’s what this program is going to be built to do.”
Addazio and the football team are major facets of an overarching culture change spearheaded by athletic director Brad Bates, who celebrated one year in the AD’s chair at BC this week. The desire to improve—to leave underachievement behind but never forget the pain it inflicts—is being reflected on the field.
Good efforts are no longer good enough. Close games aren’t moral victories. They’re motivation.
And with all the good that’s been put in motion over the past 365 days in BC athletics, Bates acknowledged that there are miles to go before anyone sleeps.
Under an observation list of all things BC—on the playing field and beyond—he sets the tone in his ‘One-Year Anniversary Reflection” on BCEagles.com: “There is so much work to be done.”
The Eagles have prided themselves on being tenacious underdogs with the ability to outduel a mightier opponent. Walk along the concourse of Alumni Stadium, and you’ll see banners paying homage to football upsets over highly ranked powerhouses. Looking at the strides BC’s teams are taking makes me think that more of those triumphs are on the horizon, even if they do face some of the nation’s stiffest competition.
And when those days come, almost will be a distant memory.