Month: October 2013

It’s a Feeling

I attended FSU for seven years (1989-1996) during the height of it’s football reign and remained a season ticket holder through the 1999 title campaign on to the early 2000’s when it all went wrong. My life is marked by the big wins and gut-punch losses of the Garnet and Gold.

My freshman year started 0-2 with losses to Southern Miss, who had a quarterback named Brett Favre and Clemson led by Terry Allen. I was confused by the lack of success and not so acclimated to Seminole Nation that I wasn’t compelled to root for Miami in Tallahassee that year when the Noles pulled off the upset on their way to a 10-2, bowl-winning, top five campaign, and by root I mean coming close to a physical altercation in the stands during the game.

By 1990, I was converted forever. Noles all day, every day….ride or die….or whatever other verbal tribute to eternal relations one might come up with. I was in the opposite end zone in the 1991 Game of the Century with Miami for WIDE RIGHT I. It felt like a death. I sat frozen in my seat with everyone else. Five minutes, fifteen minutes, maybe thirty minutes before any of us could muster the energy to get up and walk out of the stadium, our soul’s scarred and spirit crushed.

I was taking the LSAT on the morning of our 1992 game with Miami, and missed kick off. Before the last section of the test, the administrator said the simple words, “Vanover brought the kick off back.” Everybody in the exam exploded with guttural joy. I don’t remember a thing about the test beyond that moment, and of course a few hours later when we sent another kick WIDE RIGHT.

In 1993, we seemed to have figured it out. We were for most of that season a great football team. On one late afternoon in South Bend we jumped off sides and missed tackles like a freaking JV team. I was up till 5am that night mourning with friends. It honestly felt like the program was cursed or fundamentally flawed in some way that it would never win a National Championship. Notre Dame improbably faltered against Boston College, and FSU beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to make the world ok again. It was never simple though. Notre Dame and FSU each had one loss, and there was no championship game so the title wasn’t decided until the polls came out the next day. I was flying back to Tallahassee that day, and didn’t sleep with a basketball-sized knot in my stomach until it was official.

There were two dominant feelings from those days. One was the big game. The sense of anxious anticipation that was felt all day and the electricity of the walk to the stadium. And then the enormous sense of pride and fulfillment when the game was won. I would have done nothing but yell and cuss for three hours, but the actions of the players on the field somehow became mine, and it was shared by everyone in the stadium. It has to be experienced to be understood. The other feeling was pride. With the collected talent in Garnet and Gold, a blow-out seemed virtually impossible. Amidst any spell of bad play would arise a fundamental pride in our identity that would bring us to the precipice of a missed field goal, batted pass or fourth down failure that could have won the day. It was strangely comforting.

When things went wrong in the early 2000’s, the feelings changed. There was no standard. Any opponent could get us on the wrong day and win. We were blown-out on occasion and stripped of our pride. T-Shirts and Jersey’s would be hurled into the garage or bottom of the closet not to be worn again during the ongoing disaster of a season. It was a dark time, and made worse by the contrived connection to past glory.Try as I may, I could not bastardize the team. The theme of a return to glory was something I grew to hate. Following each miserable loss, it was inevitable that one crestfallen player or another would say we “need to play Florida State football”, or “get back to being Florida State.”

It was a deceptive and harmful fallacy. As Bill Parcells says, “You are what the record says you are.” For the 2000’s, FSU was a mistake-prone, poorly prepared and thoroughly mediocre football program trading poorly on past accomplishments, and in need of a new beginning more than a return to glory.

Last Saturday night, in Death Valley marked that new beginning. It was a beginning sown through the dismissal/retirement of Bobby Bowden and the growing pains of the Jimbo Fisher era. Pains that had to be endured to live in the now and not the past.

It is again in the feelings. The feeling of comfort watching Jameis Winston play quarterback. That special relationship of trust with the player most responsible for your team’s success that he will make the plays that need to be made, and keep fighting when things aren’t going well so every man on the roster, in the stands or on the couch believes we have a chance until the final whistle. Ward….Weinke….gave us that. From his first start against Pitt, Winston has inspired in me the same feeling, and after Saturday night it is apparent to even the blind that he makes Florida State special.

Columbus Day Tourney

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The Orlando City Cup is a modest tournament relying heavily on Orlando City teams to fill out the brackets.  Our U-15 team was moved up to the eight team U-16 bracket for the weekend.  The format was simple.  Win the group and play a final on Sunday at 2pm.

Our first match was against FC America’s U-16 team.  They were superior in athleticism, but not soccer.  Unfortunately,  we seemed intent on playing a game suited to their talents and not ours.  We held the ball and tried to run at and through them to no avail.  The game was uncomfortably tight, but we prevailed 1-0 primarily due to a passage of play in the first half where we moved the ball quickly and sent a player through to score. 

As I have written recently, we have dined on a steady diet of bad soccer teams.  The result is a mild hero complex that encourages our players to hold the ball longer to shoe their skill against inferior players.  It does not serve the team or the individual as it develops habits and timing that are exposed against superior competition.

Our second game against Lake County GOSA was a bit better.  We won 3-0 against a very mediocre team to set up a win/tie scenario to advance to the final against a U-16 Florida Rush team.  Our goalie Jake Gerard was unavailable due to injury and right back Tyler White was pressed into emergency service.  The Rush were not a great team, but good enough to make us pay for slow, selfish play.  For most of the game they had us on the back foot and we looked challenged to score.  It was a tense and entertaining game even at 0-0.  The gritty draw put us in the final against GOSA Boca Juniors, who survived two red cards in their final group game to reach the final.

Both teams were without their normal goalkeepers, and down a few field players due to injury.  The final was expected to be a physical clash, but played out as a cagey affair decided by one goal early in the second half on a terrific cross. 

Orlando City hoisted the Cup and benefited from a weekend of close competitive games.  Well done.

A Night of Johnny Football

Johnny Football jogs out of the tunnel with his team.  Running  mid pack every eye in Oxford hurries to find him and track his path the to the bench.  There is a game tonight, but the presence and performance of the glorious number 2 will define this night more than the final score.  Before kick-off, television cameras find him near the bench with his back to the field seemingly in prayer, or perhaps in deep thought finding that place where the genius of Johnny Football lives.

On the first play from scrimmage,  Johnny runs a draw, jukes his would-be spy, splits two converging defenders and carries another three Rebels on his back for five yards at the end of a seventeen yard run.  It is a play best measured in the hours and efforts Ole Miss spent during the week to prevent it’s ocurrence, and it’s immediate failure to do so.

After two quick passes and another draw, Johnny rolls right, and reveals the subtlety of his genius.  His eyes scan downfield as he sprints right to a pocket of space, slows to set his feet before seeing nothing and racing to the sticks to save a loss on the play.   His awareness of time and space distinguishes him. 

One play later, he is wrapped up by a defender for a sure sack, but wriggles his left  arm free with the ball and throws a lame duck pass to the sideline.  Penalty.  Intentional grounding.  Bad decision for sure, but confirmation of his unwillingness to let a play die and his unmatched improvisational instincts.

On a subsequent play, Johnny drops back and takes off breaking the ankles of his would-be spy, darting forward then horizontally for a gain of nine.  His run resemble escapes more than rushing attempts.

Later in the quarter, Johnny drops back, buys time and space before sprinting to his left amd throwing back across his body and incomplete.  On the release, Johnny falls to the ground clutching his left knee.  He remains on the ground for a few minutes before walking gingerly to the bench.   Even in a moment of injury, he remains aware and in full control of his body.  In a full spring and having released a pass, he keeps his left leg off the ground and falls without landing on it again.  Spontaneous, but brilliant.

The possession ends with a missed field goal, and Johnny, with a far away look in his eyes as trainers tend to his knee.  The potential disappointmemt if cannot return to the game is depressing, and i would be inclined to watch a different game.  Moments later, he is up and cutting on the sideline.

Perhaps on a balky knee, Johnny stands in the pocket and fires three straight completions.  The Aggies benefit from a targeting penalty and run in from fifteen yards out on the next play.  The drive is inconclusive of Johnny’s ability to play as himself.

Bound to the pocket again, Johnny converts a third and five with a screen pass as speculation increases on the  extent of his injury.  On third and fourteen, he can’t find a receiver and bursts up the middle of the field for twenty yards.  A few plays later he spins away from the pass rush and sprints left to pick up first down as an Ole Miss defender pulls a hamstring in pursuit.  He is fine, or has willed himself to be so.  Game on.

With his team down 7 in the fourth quarter, Johnny Football converts a third and 14 and a fourth and 7 with his feet before scoring the game tying touchdown and leading his team downfield to a field goal to win 41-38.

Over the sixty minutes he passed or ran 58 times for 470 yards and two touchdowns.  An extraordinary stat line that doesn’t come close to the joy of watching him play after play.  No player in college football produces brilliance and efficient numbers at the rate and it is a joke to consider anyone else for the Heisman Trophy.

The Florida So-Called Premier League

Ideas are not responsible for what people do with them.

The Florida Premier League was created under the banner of US Soccer to help top clubs in the state of Florida compete against each other a suitably high level for the betterment of player development. The Florida Youth Soccer Association, under it’s own authority, created it’s own league for the same purpose inviting the Sweet Sixteen teams from the preceding year’s State Cup to compete in a high quality league. Politics and it’s chronic partner pettiness have resulted in two leagues trying to accomplish the same goal while simultaneously impeding the accomplishment of said goal by dividing the State’s top teams into two leagues.

My son Bryson Pink plays for Orlando City, who is competing this season in The Florida Premier League. It is a good, but not yet great team that stands atop the table with five wins and a draw. In two weeks time, we will have completed 70% of our league fixtures, and only if our next game is competitive, will have played in only two competitive games. We have outscored opponents 28-3 with two of our wins coming against teams that should be playing recreational soccer.

Our club’s second team is winless in the FYSA league, and has been regularly overmatched even with a roster occasionally bolstered by first-teamers. From top to bottom, the FYSA league is probably better, but that misses the point. Soccer is losing. If the top half of both leagues played in the same league, regardless of banner, the best team’s in the Florida would be competing against each other week in and week out. Most games would turn on one, maybe two goals, and players would develop in this sort of competitive cauldron, The bottom half of both leagues would benefit as well. Gone would be back to back 6-0 and 5-1 confidence-sapping beatings, replaced by competitive one and two goal games that turn not on over or underwhelming talent, but execution under pressure. In this setting, players on each level would be exposed for their inability to compete, or identified as destined to play above their current station.

This would be fulfillment of the idea each league aspires to.

The Process of Improvement

The sport of my youth was football.  From the age of nine to fourteen, I played Pop Warner football.  I rarely missed a practice and never missed a game.  I played in my yard with friends and regularly crafted plays in a notebook that was never far away. If asked in those days, I would surely have told you that I loved football, and after breathing it was the most important activity in my life.

Twenty-five to thirty years later, I can comfortably conclude that my efforts at improving and becoming a better football player were grossly insufficient and bordered on farcical.  I did not make the necessary efforts to improve my body, prepare my mind and develop my skills because that would have been uncomfortable.   I was comfortable in the security of being known as a football player.  In the end, it was more a social identification than a commitment to the process of improvement.

The process requires a fundemental insecurity that somebody, somewhere is outworking you.  A commitment to study your craft particularly the nuances of technique that build the skills that provide answers to the questions the craft asks of you.  A combination of patience and resolve that enables you to find peace in the long hours and repititions required of you.  A vision that sees with clarity what you are and what you will become. 

Talent is frequently used to describe genetic gifts of size, musculature and speed, or often to explain rather vaguely why someone is so much better than another.  Talent should encompass the attributes not so readily seen that enable a person to commit to the process of improvement.