Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jimmies Rule!

A shout out to my brother-in-law Matt, a men's basketball coach at Jamestown College.

To Rhode Islanders, ask them about "jimmies," and they'd tell you those are the sprinkles that go on cupcakes or ice cream. But to Matt and the good folks at Jamestown College, being the Jimmies means you nabbed something sweeter than a confectionary add-on.

Oh, yes, these Jimmies will dance at the NAIA Div. II national tournament next month.

In just his second year as head coach, Matt has piloted Jamestown College to a 26-5 record. The Jimmies earned an automatic berth to the national tourney by prevailing in a nail-biting, 71-70 win over Dickinson State in the conference tournament semifinals last night. They play in a few minutes for the conference championship and a higher seed at the national championships.

All I can say is wow.

The other thing I can say is I love basketball, so I have the ultimate pleasure of living vicariously through Matt. I get some insights into the game, and the coaching, that I would never get otherwise. I even got to write up a scouting report! As many of you all know, I am a Duke basketball fan, a loyal rooter for my alma mater. But I must say I enjoy just as much, if not more, cheering for the Jimmies as for the Blue Devils. It's like adding another dimension when you're not only backing a team, but a team coached by someone in your family. It takes your fandom to a whole new level.

And anxiety, too, I might add. It's a good thing I don't coach (not that I would know how to do it). I'd have an ulcer five times over by now. I don't know how coaches like Matt handle the stress and endure the emotional roller coaster of having your fate tied to the performance of 18 and 19-year-olds. Of course, there's the rush of victory, and, to some coaches, the satisfaction of teaching life lessons to young men.

I'm sure it's a great ride. I'm glad I've got a front-row seat.

Thanks, Matt.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Easter Dreamin'

I was driving to church this morning with my oldest son, Nathaniel. Michelle and the younger one, Isaiah, were staying at home, because Isaiah has a cold. Welcome to February, again, the cruelest month on the calendar for parents with young children. Nathaniel has been getting over a nasty cough himself, and he was babbling to himself as we motored along.

I think I mentioned something about how on this beautiful, blessedly frigid morning, it felt like February. Finally.

"Is it winter?" Nathaniel asked.
"Yes," I replied.

"What comes after winter?"
"Spring," I answered, and then reeled off the other seasons for good measure.

"When is Easter?" Nathaniel asked.
"That's in the spring."

"I like the Easter Bunny. He brings candy."
I grunted the equivalent of a nod.

"Will he bring me candy?"
"Only if you're a good boy," I said, riffing off the Christmas theme and figuring I'd use any incentive I can find to keep him on the straight and narrow.

"Where does he live?" Nathaniel asked.
I was stumped. I thought about this for a few seconds. Then, my mind still drowsy, I said, "Easterland."

Nathaniel thought about that one for a while.
"is that near Santa?"

How do you answer that one? Well, how do you?

So, I changed the conversation.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl bound

Those of you who read a few posts ago know I had the unbelievable fortune of attending the AFC Championship game a couple of weekends ago. I don't need to remind some in my larger family (read: Niccolinis) that the New England Patriots (the good guys) prevailed over the Baltimore Ravens (the bad guys) in a suspenseful game with a stunning finish.

I doubt I can fully describe how much doggone fun I had at the game, the first Patriots game I had ever seen in person and I think the first NFL game I had attended since watching the Oilers in a playoff game in 1991, twenty years ago.

I have heard from those more tuned than I into all things Patriots that Pats fans had grown complacent with their teams' perennial success. As if every dinner were a feast, Patriots nation had become fat and happy, and thus unable to truly appreciate the team's amazing run of success over the last decade. The fans are boring, stay glued in their seats and nary raise a roar even if the game gets tight. The novelty of winning and of success had grown worn indeed, I was told.

So, despite my excitement, I was unsure what would greet me when we pulled into the parking lot for the pre-game tailgate. My good friend, Av, who had secured a ticket for me, and I were meeting two men from his hometown in New Hampshire who had season tickets. From the moment we got out of the car, you could sense festiveness in the air. Drinks, grills, portable heaters, blow-up players, footballs flying through the air, it was one big asphalt party. We broke out two grills and feasted on sausages, peppers, lamb kabobs, grilled chicken and enough chips and dip to feed a battalion. Some brews (no numbers given here) and much food later, we made our way into the stadium.

Our seats were high in the sky – upper level, just off the end zone. I can tell you I didn't care where we were sitting; I was simply overjoyed to be there. And, judging by the others fans in our section, that feeling was amply shared. People were standing, screaming their fool lungs out.

I never sat down. Many others did the same. And the game held everyone's attention in spades. It really was that good. In the fourth quarter, I had a sinking feeling that we may lose as the Ravens began to methodically move the chains. Ray Rice was gaining 5-6 yards on first-down carries, nicely setting up play-action passes for Joe Flacco, who, after a rough first half, had found his rhythm and his confidence. Even though the Pats took the lead in the final frame, the Ravens had the momentum, and their final drive appeared destined to be a winner.

Most know what happened at the end. But let me describe what happened in the stadium as Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff lined up to kick. Most of us, dare I say all of us Patriots fans, were readying ourselves for overtime. The snap, the kick.

Silence. One beat, two beats. Silence.

Then, pandemonium.

The stadium shook as grown men and women jumped around, dancing into the arms of strangers, high-fiving friends and row neighbors and acting like a little child who received his entire wish list for Christmas. No one, and I mean no one, expected that field goal to miss. It took those two beats for everyone to realize that, by golly, the kick had sailed wide.

The Patriots had won. They were Super Bowl bound.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Short and Stout

Isaiah got his latest progress report from the doctor last week. And the bottom line is he's like a teapot: Short and stout.

And, now, a digression. The teapot song, if you please:
"I'm a little teapot, short and stout/
Here is my handle, here is my spout/
When I get all steamed up, I just shout/
Tip me over and pour me out."

I can't remember lyrics to a Jimi Hendrix song, but, yes, I have had the lyrics to the teapot song seared into my mind. This is parenthood.

Back to Isaiah: His height has gone from 6th percentile to 10th percentile. His weight has gone from 55th percentile to 65th percentile.

Now you know why he call him short and stout.

We love him!