Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Wow!

Way too many superlatives to consider using in a year with such spectacular highs, unfortunate lows and everything between.....

So, how do we go through the year?  If you know me, you know that means a stream of typing consciousness.....so away we go!

1) 25 Years: In January, Bonnie and I determined we would actually celebrate our wedding anniversary this year, being that this was, according to tradition, the Silver Anniversary.  So off we flew to Las Vegas for her second trip, and my first.  Never figured myself to be a "Vegas" guy, and I was right, except......

...I could live in that suite a long time!  Love the lights at night, and nothing about the rest of the nightlife. Menopause: The Musical?  HIGHLY recommend it if you've never seen it.  :)

(The Monte Carlo was our home for four nights, and yes, we stopped by CVS...)

2) The Wait Is Over: After nearly three long years of nothing but seasonal work, my awesome son, Robbie, who turned legal (21) in April, FINALLY found full-time work in late March.  He enjoys his work at Southeast Frozen Foods, where he's known as "Snowball", auditing orders on the night shift, making sure YOU can find your favorite pseudo-half gallon of ice cream or frozen pizza at your local Food Lion or Dollar Tree.  The pay isn't enough to allow him to break out on his own (as is the case for millions of Millennials right now), but IS enough for him to FINALLY begin the road to his dream.

He began training with GXW Wrestling in early November.  He's in the ring twice a week for four hours in the afternoon before heading to work at night, learning to fall (or "bump" as is the industry jargon), how to armdrag, wrist lock, and soon, suplex and more. He's gone through a few trainers as, sadly, his first lost his Dad and had to move home in Maryland to care for his surviving mom, then, he was being schooled by the head trainer of GXW, Johnny Ringo.  Johnny, VERY sadly, passed on December 19th just days before his 57th birthday.  He spent his entire life wrestling, up to the very end, and was excited to start getting Robbie into the deeper things of the squared circle.  But, as of today, Robbie has another wonderful trainer, and I'm sure 2014 will bring him his first match, though it may be late in the year.  It takes a year (or more for some) for trainees to finally become ready.  I'm looking forward to that night!

3) LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION:  It was another year on the stage for Miss Rachel, who turned "Sweet Sixteen" in late February, then dove straight on into "West Side Story". She was in the ensemble, but also captured the role of the "Somewhere Girl", who stood on a very high platform singing the signature song from the classic musical during a wonderfully-choreographed scene from our incredible Drama Director J. Harvey Stone.  She made an impression, being named "Most Improved Actress" in June at the year-end awards for Jaguar Drama 2012-13.

Over the summer, we learned there would be TWO musicals this year, the first being "Disney's Beauty & The Beast".  Rachel hoped to become Mrs. Potts, but her best friend won that part (and deservingly so!  Lainie's performance brought yours truly to tears...) so my baby took on anything Mr. Stone needed her to do, and the cast put on a show for the ages.  What they do in theatre at the high school level now as opposed to what we did in high school 30 years ago?  NO comparison.

In between, Rachel spent her summer with friends, going to cardiac rehab with me, and spending an impressive number of evenings with me at various events doing photography as part of her two-year internship with the Hanover Herald-Progress. She also took an impromptu tour of the campus of Randolph-Macon College over the summer (and REALLY wants to go), and when she actually WAS home, she loved up on Harry J., who turned 10 back on December 12th, practiced piano (8th year with recital in June), spent a week in Virginia Beach with a friend, and starts 2014 Saturday with an audition for the Summer Governor's School for the Dramatic Arts at Radford University.  If she gets it, it'll be exactly 30 years since yours truly did the same thing at then Mary Washington College.

4) ON THE GRIND: Bonnie spent the year, literally, working. Working all day, every day at Virginia Credit Union inside the DMV Building on Broad Street, which meant, yes, she had to deal with the 166,000 people who showed up across the street over the summer for Washington Redskins Training Camp!  When she wasn't working, she went to lots of Tuesday night movies with her work buddy Margaret at BowTie, and read 5,643 books on her Kindle.  Well, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little..... :)

5) DOWN SOUTH: We had three celebrations with our North Carolina family this year, two of which you'd expect to be called such, while one was unorthodox, but the perfect tribute to a pretty incredible guy.

A) I was deeply, deeply honored to be able to participate in the long, long overdue Ordination Service for my brother on March 3rd!  He is now pastoring a wonderful church in the community of Cove City, NC, not far west from his home in New Bern.

B) We returned to Cove City as my niece got married to start our Memorial Day Weekend!  It was the first time the 3 Witham kids were all together in just over 10 years, which was very cool.  And, it meant time with adorable Cora Jane (who came up to see Rachel in Beauty & The Beast in December!), so that's always a plus.

C) But then, in early August, we discovered my Dad had a brain tumor, an offshoot of his brain aneurysm from 29 years earlier. He's been ready to go for years now, and the treatment options both would deeply accelerate his dementia. After watching my Mom age 15 years in 2 months thanks to chemo back in 2002, I wanted no part of that. Our family was in 100 percent agreement to let nature take its course and God would take him when He was ready.

We made four trips to N.C. in two months, the third was the final time we saw him, a few days before he passed away early on the morning of October 2nd at age 81. We returned the next weekend for the funeral, which was filled with celebration, great remembrances, a sermon (mandatory for my Dad!), and an 80 degree fall day FILLED with gnats in the Eastern Carolina air at graveside.  So I now move on parentless, which is a completely new, and very weird, feeling.
(Dad at his final Christmas one year ago...)

So....I guess that leaves me.  :)

Everything changed on April 8th at 1:50pm ET when I awoke from a nap to intense pressure in my chest, and, a few minutes later, pain radiating down both arms down to the elbow.  It was, so I'm told, 70 minutes from the time I called 911 to the time they inserted the stent into the area entering the aorta, which was 100 percent blocked. By 5:30, I was woozy in my hospital room, picking on a turkey sandwich.

Poor Robbie had just started his new job, poor Bonnie had to fly out of work, then had to go to Glen Allen High and get Mr. Stone to help break the news to Rachel, 10 days out from West Side Story.

Here's how amazing medical technology has changed. In 1975, when my Dad had his first heart attack, he was in the hospital 3 1/2 weeks and was prescribed extreme amounts of rest once finally home.

I left the hospital less than 45 hours after my heart attack, stopped by the school to say hi to Rachel, give her two thumbs up, then come home. 16 days later, I began rigorous cardiac rehabilitation. 36 sessions that took me through the summer, and I enjoyed it so much, it helped so much, I returned on my own December 2nd. I need a group session. Why go to the gym when they have all the equipment I need, all the nurses know my history, they can slap a heart monitor on me whenever they want and I bring down the median age of the rehab session by 15 years?  It's the least I can do....

So a BIG THANK YOU to my doctors, all the nurses at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center Cardiac Rehabilitation (Junior, Ginny, Susan, Suzi, Stephanie, Bonnie, Rita, and I know I'm missing some names!) for your help this year.

OH, and a huge goodbye to 20 pounds, and to soda.  Haven't had one since April 8th.  :)

Otherwise?  2013 was focusing on getting better, as my second blockage is inside the heart at 50 percent, but they didn't stent it (they used to, but realized stents inside the heart are much riskier, so now they'd rather you treat with diet, exercise and meds, so I am.) as well as improving on the diabetes and sleep issues so I can, after many years, hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future be, once again, 100 percent healthy. :)

Other highlights of 2013:

---Walking 5K at the Richmond Heartwalk September 28th through the streets and bridges of Richmond
---Raising nearly $1,000 for the American Heart Association thanks to Rachel and the team she assembled
---Not breaking the cameras at CBS6 when I was interviewed there to promote the HeartWalk

---52 weeks of articles printed in Section B of the Hanover Herald-Progress (yes, I even wrote and filed an article IN my hospital bed the day after my heart attack...)

---Over 5,000 followers on Twitter as we expanded to three feeds: @hanoversports, @henricosports, and @cfieldsports. As of tonight, 1,637 Henrico followers in under 8 months, 573 followers in just 4 months with little push down in Chesterfield.

---HCS Media Network expanding rapidly!  It's officially an LLC, owned by Bonnie (she's the business brains here, not me!), with the Twitter feeds, two live and one developing web sites, a YouTube channel and a growing online radio presence of live events, and TONS of plans for 2014.

---Getting my new moniker, known as "The Hanover Sports Guy".  :)

---All the student-athletes I covered this year around the #RVA.
---All the Athletic Directors from high schools and Randolph-Macon
 College, the University of Richmond, VCU, etc.

---Rachel getting her learner's permit
---Robbie's 49ers almost making the comeback win in Super Bowl XLVII
---Robbie finally seeing his wrestling idol, Sting, LIVE when we went to TNA in Norfolk in August
---Being at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center for building, dedication, and finally, to cover Redskins camp
---Getting to personally thank to head of Bon Secours at an event on May 20th, just six weeks after his people saved my life.
---The super-mini thunderstorm of doom that cost us 13 hours of power on August 10th.
---The best year of high school football coverage on WHAN Radio yet, complete with a new partnership with the sports department at NBC12 (Marc and Matt rock, as does their news director, Frank Jones!)
---Seriously paring down my sports card collection to make room for other things. Funny how priorities change after a little thing like a heart attack....
---My Road Trips to see sports teams...
         1) Atlee softball in state quarterfinal action in Chesapeake
         2) Hanover baseball the same day in the state quarters in Norfolk
         3) American Legion Post 175 in State Tournament play in Williamsburg
         4) September 21st, going to see Sam Rogers' 2nd home game for Virginia Tech against Marshall, then dropping by Charlottesville that night to watch Karlie Suber play volleyball for UVA!
         5) Multiple trips to the Siegel Center, none better than November 23rd as Atlee girls volleyball WON the State Title.
         6) And a Sunday in Stafford to watch Rockville Softball win Babe Ruth state titles (yep, more than one!)

So, we enter 2014 with Rachel acting, Robbie working (and training for wrestling on the holiday tomorrow!), Bonnie resting, and me wishing YOU and YOURS a WONDERFUL New Year!

Enjoy every moment.  You never know when everything will change.  :)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Rob's Fearless Annual 2013 NFL Predictions!

I sense a rematch....from a long time ago.....

1) Washington Redskins: Even if RGIII has a hiccup or two, Kirk Cousins is good enough to start for half the league. If Alfred Morris even approaches his output of last year, the 'Skins will be just fine.

2) Dallas Cowboys: No doubt this is it for Jason Garrett.  Dez Bryant isn't a championship receiver, but he's darn good.  He and Romo will put up numbers. But DeMarco Murray cannot stay healthy and their defense is....eh.  This is a one-team playoff division.  Dallas won't be that team.

3) New York Giants: My G-Men are in for a down season.  They'll miss Osi up front defensively, and it's past time for Eli to have a down year.  He has them, and this will be one.

4) Philadelphia Eagles: Really excited to watch Eagles' offensive lineman's tongues drag on the turf...in the second quarter. Already down Maclin, they are certain to lose Vick at some point, then who runs the cardboard offense, Nick Foles?  No, thanks.

1) Green Bay Packers: This pick is almost by default as the other three teams having talent, but glaring issues. The Packers' issues are more minor.  A good year running by Lacy or Franklin unleashes Rodgers to throw to Nelson, Jones, et al.  Their defense needs to keep opponents under 20 points.  If they can, the Packers make the playoffs with an inflated record.

2) Detroit Lions: One of my sleeper picks. Too much talent on this team for them to pull another clunker season. If they had a legitimate #2 wide receiver, they'd be VERY dangerous.  But they don't.  So triple team Megatron and force Brandon Pettigrew to win games.  That's what I'd do.

3) Minnesota Vikings: No, Adrian Peterson won't run for 2,500 yards.  He may not run for 1,500 yards, as history dictates years after a 2,000 yard season aren't nearly as successful on average.  And I'm not sold still on Christian Ponder. Blair Walsh's leg may win a game or two, flipping the Vikins and Lions final positions in the division.

4) Chicago Bears: The CFL comes to Chicago!  The only problem is, Jay Cutler is still there.  Urlacher's presence is gone (it will prove to be a bigger loss than anyone is speaking of right now). Can you say 6-10?

1) New Orleans Saints: I just can't see Drew Brees going any longer without winning the division. Plenty of interchangeable parts on offense. In a scary similar scenario as the Packers, their defense much hold opponents to under 20 points.  I'm not as secure in this unit doing this, but I think they'll have enough to hold off...

2) Atlanta Falcons: Last year is as close to the Super Bowl as Matt Ryan will get.  He and Matt Schaub, to me, and two classic quarterbacks in the mold of those I've seen in my lifetime like Dan Pastorini, Neil Lomax, Warren Moon, Bert Jones and Brian Sipe. Very good quarterbacks that simply couldn't get to the Big Game.  Julio and Roddy will score TD's, Stephen Jackson is a big question mark (health). They'll stub their toe a couple of times and get swept by New Orleans, but they'll make the playoffs.

3) Carolina Panthers: Don't you think it's about time Cam Newton reminded everybody who he is and what he does?  Of course, it doesn't seem like the Panthers know what the whole world does, they desperately need a #2 receiver to line up beside 52-year old Steve Smith. If Newton finishes another 6-10 season, you think he'll be itching for his rookie contract to expire?

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The coaching hire last year is slowly proving to be a disaster. It all falls apart this year.  Doug Martin will get yards, but Josh Freeman won't, and we'll realize once and for all he was really a psuedo-one year wonder. A top five 2014 draft pick is possible here.

NFC WEST: (By the way, the best division in football. Imagine saying that 4 years ago....)
1) San Francisco 49ers: A full season of Kapernick, the addition of Anquan Boldin, which stifles the loss of Michael Crabtree until his return.  Then there's that Vernon Davis guy, and Frank Gore's got about two seasons left in him. LaMichael James brings a nice change of pace. Then there's that Kapernick guy....and the defense is ferocious. One possible achilles heel: why replace one breaking down kicker in David Akers with another aging kicker who could unwind at any moment in Phil Dawson?

2) Seattle Seahawks: I love, love, love Russell Wilson. What character, what a rookie season to end, finally, all the naysayers who have been in his ear since he graduated Collegiate School here in Richmond.  Add Skittles guy in the backfield and a monster defense, and I think by season's end people will be saying, "Wasn't this team supposed to have Percy Harvin?"  The two 49ers/Seahawks games should be the roughest, and best, of the regular season schedule. Move over Steelers/Ravens....

3) St. Louis Rams: In any other division, this team would fight for the title. They're just not good enough offensively to hang with the above two.  Tavon Austin excites me.  And their defense can hang with about anyone.

4) Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians steps in hoping to find the magic he had last year when subbing for Chuck Pagano in Indy.  He won't find it.  This franchise is ruining Larry Fitzgerald's career. It's painful to watch run 20-25 routes a game knowing there's no way that ball comes close to him due to bad snaps, bad offensive line play, and, of course, the lack of a quarterback. As a Raiders fan I can testify, Carson Palmer is NOT the answer.  Long season in the desert.

NFC SEEDINGS: 1) Green Bay 2) San Francisco 3) New Orleans 4) Washington 5) Seattle 6) Atlanta

WILD CARDS: Atlanta gets revenge for sweep by Saints in regular season and wins in Big Easy, and in rematch of the game where RGIII went down, Seattle will send him to the offseason a 2nd straight year.

DIVISIONALS: Atlanta goes to Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers tears them apart in a track meet. The Seattle/San Francisco game goes overtime, and the 49ers win.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: San Francisco 30, Green Bay 27

1) New England Patriots: The winner...by default.  Who in the world else could possibly knock them off? Tom Brady could throw to ME and win the division.  That's all I need to say. :)

2) Buffalo Bills: If this team could stay healthy, they could be interesting. And EJ Manuel will be the best of the rookie QB's, though this season's crop are minor league imposters compared to Luck, RGIII and Wilson.  I hope CJ Spiller can play the full 16. He could get closer to 2,000 yards than AP. Spiller loves breaking off long, long runs.....

3) Miami Dolphins: When I think of Ryan Tannehill, I think of Jay Fiedler, and Chad Pennington, and Daunte Culpepper....and whoever else has played QB there since Marino left in the sprinkler playoff game. I'd add David Woodley for old-schoolers but he at least made a Super Bowl. The closest Tannehill gets is when he plays at the Jets at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII.

4) New York Jets: The collapse, and end, of the Ryan Administration draws near.  And to think, Mark Sanchez made back-to-back AFC Championship games.  Good luck, Geno. Good luck. For 2014, a new coach and a top 3 draft pick will be in order.

1) Cincinnati Bengals: There. I said it. This is their year IF, and only IF Andy Dalton takes the next step forward. Dalton must avoid the inevitable bad interception he's had in critical games the first two years, must throw 27 or more touchdown passes and should become more demonstrative on the field as their general. He has red hair. Let's see some fire.  Mohamed Sanu, if healed 100 percent, will give AJ Green the partner he's always needed. The Law Firm gets help in the backfield.  And the defense added James Harrison.  He's a 3rd down player with an every down presence.

2) Baltimore Ravens: Everyone's raving (pun intended) about the defense in camp.  Better even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Yes, Elvis Dumervil is there, but I feel like all the Ray Lewis worship I heard in the Super Bowl run last year was smokescreen. It's amazing how dismissive pundits are now of his absence. They're gonna miss both him and Reed. They were the heart and soul of that squad, even if they didn't lead the tackle or interception department.  They instilled fear in opponents who will go to their death bed denying it. The defense will be good, but not Super Bowl good.  That's too bad for Ravens fans because last year it was the offense, not the defense, that won the day in New Orleans. But, Boldin's gone, Pitta's gone, and Dallas Clark is running out of lives. Ray Rice is fine and Joe Flacco is, to me, the poster boy for "one-time Super Bowl champion".  He's got Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Steve Young written all over him.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers: This is Big Ben's 10th season. He's breaking down. Who's his running back? Who replaces Mike Wallace?  Will they overwork Heath Miller?  How old is the defense?  See all these questions? For the Steelers, such a consistent team, a 6-10 season is a disaster. Send disaster relief in late December to Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

4) Cleveland Browns: I hear rumblings about their camp and preseason performances. That's nice. Their starting quarterback is Brandon Weeden and they're guaranteed to lose 5 or 6 division games.  Welcome back to last place.  I love Trent Richardson, though.  He'll single-handedly keep them in some games.

1) Houston Texans: Andre Johnson gets help in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, so Matt Schaub has two wide receivers to throw to, and somehow he'll still find a way to short circuit this team's run.  It seems the city of Houston itself is just cursed to not be able to reach a Super Bowl.  Had there been TV replay in 1979, the Oilers may have made it. But they never did. Neither will this group of Texans.

2) Indianapolis Colts: I see Andrew Luck equalling 2012, but not more. Overall, I see the Colts around .500, taking a step back from a year which was fueled by emotion, inspired QB play, and surprisingly results from several newbies.  They come back to earth and are an average team this time around.

3) Tennessee Titans: No team in the NFL is spinning its wheels like the Tennessee Titans. Jake Locker is about as good as he'll get. Jared Cook is gone, part of his O-Line protection is gone and Chris Johnson is about gone. Does any Titans wide receiver stay healthy for 16 games?  Why did they ever let Jeff Fisher go....

4) Jacksonville Jaguars: That Clowney kid at South Carolina should learn the road to Jacksonville. He'll be there as the #1 pick in 2014 after the Jags are lucky to win 2 or 3 games.  A healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will ensure those wins.  If he's out again, it actually could be worse.  Justin Blackmon is a lost cause and no one is going to win with the two-headed quarterback monster of Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert.  Not even Jon Gruden's bus could save them.

1) Denver Broncos: No-brainer here, though please remember the defense doesn't have Dumervil, Von Miller is out six games and Champ Bailey is out for the opener.  Bailey, Manning and Welker aren't getting any older and they're on their fourth-string center. Another injury there and they'll call out the really large guy sitting in Section 323 to sign a one-year deal. But, with all this, there simply isn't another team in the division with talent enough to beat this crew.

2) Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid will shake things up, and he'll like Kansas City BBQ, too.  Alex Smith got the shaft in San Francisco, and gets to manage an offense with no pressures like he felt on the Bay. Jamaal Charles is a top 5 back, and maybe Dwayne Bowe actually overperforms once in his career. Lots of talent on a defense that seemed to stop playing last year, but, to their defense last year was rough at Arrowhead. Imagine watching a teammate shoot themselves in the stadium parking lot.  Then you're supposed to go in and study film?  I believe the Chiefs will play with new hunger and Reid will be the Reid of 5 straight NFC title games, not the Reid barely holding on in Philly the past few years.

3) San Diego Chargers: We've seen the best of Philip Rivers, which is bad news for Bolts fans. Ryan Mathews still hasn't played a full season, and after Vincent Jackson and an aging Antonio Gates, who catches the ball?  The defense is marginal, and that's being nice.  The top question in San Diego in 2013 will be what is decaying faster, the Charger roster or Qualcomm Stadium?

4) Oakland Raiders: In a dogfight with Jacksonville and the Jets for the #1 pick in next May's draft.  To think, this is the 40th anniversary of my decision to become a Raiders fan.  There won't be much reason to celebrate....

AFC SEEDS: 1) New England, 2) Houston, 3) Denver, 4) Cincinnati, 5) Baltimore, 6) Kansas City

WILD CARDS: Cincinnati takes giant leap forward in franchise history, finally getting a home playoff win, knocking off defending champions. Andy Reid tries everything in the playbook, but it's not enough in Denver.

DIVISIONAL ROUNDS: Cincinnati turns the NFL on its ear as their defense gives Brady fits all day, and Dalton finally plays "that game" Bengals fans have been begging for. Peyton won't throw under ill-advised pick and the Broncos knock off Houston.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dalton completes the trifecta by knocking off the legend Peyton Manning, dominated by the Bengals defense, now being recognized by casual fans and pundits alike for being just that good.


San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

I don't think precipitation would make much of a difference for either team, though it would lend to a low-scoring affair.  And if these teams win conference championships on the road in Green Bay and Denver respectively, cold weather's not an issue when they head to Met Life Stadium

But Bengals fans, this is where the train must end.  There's just too much firepower for a franchise that should have made the Super Bowl two years ago and didn't, then should have won a Super Bowl back in February and didn't.  With Jim Harbaugh leading the way, you keep kicking that wall 'til it comes crashing down.

FINAL: San Francisco 30, Cincinnati 21

Thursday, April 04, 2013

30 Years Ago Today: April 4, 1983....

I know I'm behind, missing a key date of March 26th, which I will come back soon and blog about, but I gotta, gotta do this one on time.

April 4, 1983, a nice, warm spring Monday and the first weekday of Spring Break from my sophomore year of high school.  That meant a break from studies, musical rehearsal, and an unexpected chance to watch my boys from Raleigh go for the most unlikely of national championships.

The whole story of the N.C. State run through the ACC Tournament to win it, the only way for them to qualify back then for the NCAA Tournament, then their whole tournament run, is a story unto itself, part of which I've already documented.  But you also need to remember the following:

1) This was Ralph Sampson's senior season at the University of Virginia.  He came in as heralded as any high school player ever when he moved from Harrisonburg High to Charlottesville in the fall of 1979, promptly leading a young UVA squad to an NIT title when it was much more relevant.

Sampson and the Cavs made the Final Four in '81 only to lose to an ACC nemesis, North Carolina, when Al Wood (one of the more forgotten super players in Tar Heel history) poured 39 on them in the national semis.  TRIVIA NOTE: UVA would beat LSU the following Monday afternoon in the last-ever "Third Place Game", which took place at the same time President Reagan was being wheeled into surgery after his assassination attempt.

UVA's surprisingly quick exit to, of all teams, UAB, in the '82 Tournament helped pave the way for UNC to finally get Dean Smith his first title, albeit with some timely help from Freddy Brown and his errant pass of renown...

So, when N.C. State, losers of seven straight to Virginia, not only beat them in the ACC Tournament final, but again in the West Region Final to get to the Final Four ended what became an era of promise turned disappointment in C'Ville.  No skin off my back; I couldn't stand Virginia back then.  I even rooted for Maryland to beat them (and that's saying something, as I can't stand Maryland, either...)

2) North Carolina was the defending national champions!  They lost James Worthy, but returned Perkins and some guy named Jordan, and several others and easily could have gone back-to-back.  Georgia's win over UNC in the East Region Final allowed the Wolfpack to avoid the task of having to do to UNC what they managed to do in March, 1983 to UVA.

3) Duke was a mess in 1983, its third under "Coach K", who back then was just another young coach, and one who heard the calls for his dismissal grow.  The Blue Devils lost in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals that year by 46 points, but, as history would soon show, the freshmen who learned from that beating, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, et al, would learn quickly, and soon, Duke was back.

4) The first win in the run to the title was against a Wake Forest team with good talent and the same regular season record as the Wolfpack.  Getting by them was no picnic, though we'd beat them 130-89 the week before the ACC Tourney.  Back then it was different come tournament time.  Truly, if you lost, you were done.


All that to say, the story of the 1983 N.C. State team is made all the more surreal when looking around them in the ACC at everything they overcame, and the teams, all of which once, and some twice, stood in their way.

After an afternoon trip into Beaverdam via a nice walk along Route 715 to shoot hoops with Lyn Buchanan and Brian Luck, I returned home and nervously got ready to watch the game.  A 9pm tip meant a longer wait.

We played an awesome first half, and had we been able to shoot the ball better the first ten minutes, our halftime lead could, could have been more significant than 33-25.

Then what I feared happened; Houston came out strong in the second half, went on a 17-2 run, and had a seven-point lead of their own.  I was just waiting for them to start breaking out the Phi Slamma Jamma track shoes that walked all over Louisville two nights earlier, but, when Houston head coach Guy Lewis (and his trademark towel) saw his big man, Akeem Olajuwon (1983 spelling), grasping for air, coming to the bench for oxygen, he had to start milking the clock.

Fatal mistake.

When he put on the brakes, in spite of Olajuwon needing rest and Drexler having four fouls due to incompetence, they had enough horses to push another three or four minutes, go PSJ on a Wolfpack team with little depth, build the lead, THEN hold on.  Nine minutes, against an N.C. State team that lived by second half comebacks the entire month of March, was TOO long.

You see, N.C. State never got a big lead and milked it to its conclusion during this magical time.  They would hang around, hang around, then seize the moment.  Houston would score just 10 points in the final 9 minutes.  The great Phi Slamma Jamma, held to 10 points in the most important 9 minutes of their basketball lives.

And meanwhile, N.C. State got steals, seniors made shots, and calculated risks of putting Cougars on the free throw line to choke paid off handsomely, setting up the stage for "The Play".

What if Houston had full-court pressed N.C. State with 45 seconds left?  What if Lewis decided to go tit-for-tat and foul N.C. State to assure they'd at least get the ball back to, at worst, try for a tie before the buzzer, or, had a Pack player missed at the charity stripe, escape with the win that 92 percent of America expected them to take.

The Houston Cougars played like overwhelming favorites who didn't know how to act like overwhelming favorites.  That was exactly what the N.C. State doctor ordered.

Not that the Pack didn't almost squander the whole thing.  Go back and watch the final 40 seconds and see bad pass after bad pass after bad pass.  I remember standing up in my room now, no longer on my pull out chair bed on the floor, listening to the game loudly in stereo headphones (back in the days when our CBS TV affiliate's audio could be heard at 87.7 FM) because my folks were long asleep.

I remember these moments, these images, these reactions.....

---The pass into the corner to Thurl Bailey, who had no intention of shooting...
---His baseball pass out to Whittenburg, which almost went horribly awry...
---His desperation shot from 35 feet and me thinking, "overtime".....
---Out of nowhere, there's Lorenzo Charles on my 19 inch black and white television set, grabbing the ball out of the air and slamming it home on Phi Slamma Jamma...
---I froze for about three seconds, watching the clock go from 02, to 01, to 00, wondering:
       ---Did it count?
       ---Did the clock really run out before Houston called a timeout?
---And suddenly, one of the voices of my childhood, longtime ACC analyst Billy Packer, said in my speakers, "THEY WON IT!!!!  ON THE DUNK!!!"

I threw my arms up in the air, watched Jimmy V look for a hug partner, stunned and amazed by what I saw.

The first words out of my mouth (in the most whispered yell I could muster) were, "LORENZO!!! LORENZO!!!"

And then the phone starting ringing.  UT OH.

I ended up fielding two congratulatory calls from great friends, friends who knew how much this meant to me.  I also had to hope and pray their good will gestures wouldn't ruin the night's sleep of my Dad and Stepmom....

In the end, all was well.  I watched the interviews, the nets being cut down, then it was over.

I was in Beaverdam, so no early cable for me, no "flip it to SportsCenter".  You watched the 11pm news that came on late due to the length of the game and waited for the sports segment to see the highlights one more time, all the while jamming loudly to my favorite tunes of the day on my stereo in surreal celebration.

So, while the team that EARNED this most improbable of titles celebrated in Albuquerque, one of their more die-hard fans partied alone in a small bedroom just west of Beaverdam, Virginia deep into the night, knowing these type of things usually only come along once in a lifetime.

I was blessed enough that mine came sorta early, on a high school spring break, and I had the boundless energy of a 15 year old to jump, dance, shout, and celebrate.

And, rolling all this back to present day, I think that's why I'm so apopletic about the latest version of N.C. State basketball, a team without a lot of depth, but with lots of talent and lots of promise.  But they didn't have bedrock senior leadership, they certainly didn't have a mental/emotional genius like Jim Valvano as coach, so, their quiet first game exit in the tournament this year is simply emblematic of the Wolfpack program since Valvano had to leave (and understandably so) as the 80s gave way to the 90s.

Ever since, there's been no magic.  I don't expect a title run as a six-seed every ten years, but I do expect a cohesive program that seems to have short and long-term vision.  They've had neither in Raleigh since Fire and Ice graduated in 1991.....

No regular season titles, no ACC Tournament titles, multitudes of appearances in the "Thursday night play-in game" in March, and just enough Sweet Sixteen appearances (two) to briefly get one's hopes up, only to find them dashed with 12 months.

So, from the perspective of 45-year old Rob Witham looking back on one of the greatest nights in the life of then 15-year old Robbie Witham, I appreciate four weekends in March/April, 1983 even more now than ever, mindful that many people never get to see their beloved team have their "One Shining Moment".

Just ask any Cubs fan under the age of 112.......

P.S.---So it was poetic that, five years to the day later, on another Monday April 4th, I began my first full-time job ever in radio, my career dream, and in Christian radio in my hometown no less, Operations Manager for WDYL-FM/WGGM here in
Richmond.  I love finding the symmetry of life.  You just need to be looking for it.

And for my son to finally begin his first full-time job post high school exactly 25 years later, on this
April 4, 2013.....all I can do is smile.  :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

30 Years Ago---March 20, 1983

This was a great Sunday.

It began with one of those special Sunday morning worship services at our church.  The kind where Dad never got around to preaching.

That's not meant as a cut towards my Pop.  :)

Sometimes, a random testimony during the announcements would turn into a testimony session, and as God's Spirit moved in the church, people were truly moved and truly blessed.  That's what we had going on this Lord's Day and I remember it to this day.  My testimony was a thank you to my Dad for all the evenings he spent taking me from Beaverdam to Ashland for play practice at school, waiting on me by going to his second job place, Ukrop's in Ashland, and chewing the fat with employees until it was time to get me.

No big deal, right?

Well, it was, considering he had to turn around and get up at 3:45AM to go to work the next morning.  It makes my trips to take and get Rachel from Glen Allen (a simple 6 mile roundtrip) extremely easy by comparison.

Then it was home to watch N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament Second Round, this time against UNLV, a 28-2 team. As usual, the Wolfpack fell behind, and, as usual, they roared back just at the right time.

Thurl Bailey got a rebound after batting the ball off the backboard to himself, and his put-back gave State a 71-70 win and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Another nailbiter, another win!

And the Road To Albuquerque continues.....

30 Years Ago---March 19, 1983.....

So, the actual game was played on March 18th, but on the west coast, and, thanks to the then-magic of "tape delay", the parts of the game that mattered most.....and that I saw....were show on 3/19.

Now, with THAT technicality out of the way........:)

I went to bed that Friday night knowing N.C. State played its first NCAA Tournament game in Oregon in the West Region against that powerhouse Pepperdine.  I was confident and hopeful to awaken Saturday to hear that they had, again, survived and advanced.

I woke up in the middle of the night instead....about 1:30....

...and since the CBS "tape-delay" broadcast began at 11:30, that meant the game was still on.  So, I get up, turn on my awesome black and white TV, and, much to my surprise and shagrin, we were LOSING.

In what would, of course, become the "State Standard" of this March, the Wolfpack frantically came back, tied the game, sent it to overtime, then forced a second overtime, before FINALLY picking up the 69-67 win.

So, by a little after 2am, I turned off the TV, crawled back into bed, and rested very, very well.  But not until I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

Up next was a date with 28-2 UNLV on Sunday afternoon.  :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

30 Years Ago Today---March 13, 1983.....

Alright, Dad, preach well, but preach quick so we get home in time for tip-off!

I hated it when the ACC moved its Tournament final to Sunday afternoon from Saturday night in 1982, but my voice was not listened to.  Happy to report we got home in time to watch N.C. State battle Ralph Sampson and Virginia for the ACC Tournament title.

Virginia was desperate because they had yet to win an ACC Championship with the big man and he was a senior.  N.C. State was more desperate because a loss would end their season. Virginia would make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team with a much better regular season record.

Back and forth we went....the nail biting was excruciating.  But when it was all said and done, I can still remember Thurl Bailey filling my black and white TV screen with a huge smile, as the Wolfpack celebrated on the floor of the old Omni in Atlanta, with an 81-78 win over the Cavaliers!!

One of my all-time favorite teachers, Mrs. Sharon Adams, called my house long distance from Richmond to congratulate me on my team's accomplishment.  I'll never forget that.  :)

Later on, they announced the 52-team field for the NCAA Tournament. CBS was only in its second year covering the tourney, and the year before had premiered a 30-minute program late on Sunday afternoon to announce the tournament field.  Back then, they had no cameras at college sites to "get the reaction of a team" when they see if/where they will begin their March Madness journey.  Heck, the term March Madness had just started to catch on (Musburger should have copyrighted that immediately....). It was Brent and Billy Packer in a studio talking about the upcoming event, maybe a coach or two interviewed.

I went to church and later found out State was going to the West Region as the #6 seed and would play Pepperdine in the first round on Friday night.  Late Friday night.

Until then, I savored the Tournament championship, headed to bed to ready myself for another week of school and play practice, patiently awaiting Friday night.  Late Friday night.

I hadn't been this happy about a sporting event since my Oakland Raiders won Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981.....I had no idea what was about to unfold over the next three weekends.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

30 Years Ago: March 12, 1983....

A pensive Saturday, as I joined Wolfpack fans around the world from my living room to watch the boys try to stay alive against defending national champion North Carolina in the ACC Tournament Semifinals.

As will be the case for the next three weeks, nothing would come easy, and we ended up going to overtime. And that's about the time I realized.....

....I was wearing a UNC wristband on my left arm.  I had been for some time (days, weeks...) because I love all things North Carolina.  But this HAD to go.  I took it off and flung it across the living room!  Don't worry, I picked it up later...

....after the Wolfpack stormed through overtime en route to a seven-point win, 91-84!  One more win, and the Pack would be back in the Big Dance.  No way their regular season record would get them an at-large bid in a field of just 52 teams in 1983.  They'll have to beat....

....Ralph Sampson and Virginia.  The team we led by 27 and lost to after losing Dereck Whittenburg to injury that fateful January night that seemed to doom the season.  Sampson, Wilson, Miller, Carlisle, the usual Cavalier suspects.

We've GOT to beat Virginia.  If there's one team I could NOT stand then...and now, it's Virginia, though not as vociferously as I did in the early 1980s.....

See you tomorrow, Ralph.

30 Years Ago: The Series....

The period from February to July, 1983 was, in hindsight, the most pivotal five month period in my life.  Most of my career direction and life trajectory came from the events of this time....

It began with a shocking and complete surprise when I was named to a lead role in my first-ever high school musical, "The 1940's Radio Hour", the story of a rundown New York City radio station trying to get ready to produce its Christmas spectacular in late 1942 during World War II.

Walking into Webb Auditorium cast as the host/producer of the show was a daunting task as I was surrounded onstage by juniors and seniors with ages upon ages of experience.  I drank it all in, tried not to be in awe of my fellow actors and actresses, and hit the ground running.

A couple of weeks later, I participated in my first-ever Central Region forensics competition in the Original Oratory category, parlaying a love of college basketball into an expose of the problems besetting big-time athletics in the early 1980s (which seem somewhat faint compared to today's multi-billion dollar behemoth that is the NCAA).

I was stunned when I was named second place winner in the category, which meant a trip to the State Championships at UVA a few weeks later.

In the meantime, my beloved North Carolina State Wolfpack were about to embark on a little journey of their own. Having just gotten guard Dereck Whittenburg back from a foot injury suffered against Ralph Sampson and Virginia several weeks earlier, the Pack went to the ACC Tournament the #4 seed, but, in reality, needing to win the whole thing in Atlanta in order to punch a ticket to the then-52 team field of the NCAA Tournament.

And there is where we pick up the story.....

Friday, March 11, 1983: A typical 10th grade Friday at Patrick Henry High (sans all of those roofs they have today...hee hee), where I sat in my final class of the day wondering how my Wolfpack, who had a 2pm tip against Wake Forest, were doing.

Remember, kids, no Twitter, no Smartphones, no internet, no WatchESPN app.

The school day ended, I got on the bus for the long hour ride home to Beaverdam, and.....

.....lookie what we had here.  Somehow, someone managed to have a 5 inch, battery-operated black and white TV on the bus.  And, better still, our driver let it play.  :)

NC State beat Wake the previous weekend 130-89.....but NOTHING came easy in the post-season.  I watched frantically as the Pack hit critical free throws down the stretch to begin what we all know now as "Survive and Advance", a 71-70 win that set up a match in Saturday's semis against Jordan, Perkins, and North Carolina, the defending National Champions.

See you tomorrow, from the living room in the parsonage in Beaverdam.