Tag Archives: sports

How Long Does It Take To Build A Great Reputation? Try 10 Years.

Mizzou football, 2007

An unusual and alarming thing has been happening lately, and I’m only now starting to figure out how to handle it:

College football is making me feel old.

It started about a year ago, when recruits coming to my alma mater, the University of Missouri, started saying things like, “I was a huge fan of Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin growing up,” or “Sean Weatherspoon was my favorite player when I was a kid.”

Those guys played at Mizzou when I was at school. Some of their teammates were in my classes.

If they’re the heroes that today’s 18-year-olds looked up to when they were in elementary school or middle school, that means….

Well, I must getting old.

But it also means another thing, something more about how long it takes a team or a business — or even someone like you or me — to build a reputation.

When I came to Mizzou in the fall of 2005, we weren’t particularly good at football. We’d beaten our biggest rival, Nebraska, just once in the previous 25 years. Mizzou was more famous for our losses than our wins.

But starting the fall of 2005, we started to win — and win a lot. Over the next decade, we’d win two Big 12 North titles, and two SEC East titles. We’d win three January bowl games. We’d have a Heisman trophy finalist. We’d reach no. 1 in the country.

And over the course of that decade, the conversation around Missouri football changed. When I entered as a freshman, nobody knew what “Mizzou” meant. My own grandmother often got confused and thought that I attended Washington University in St. Louis, and not the much larger, much-better-at-football school 120 miles west in Columbia, Mo. (When we hit no. 1 my junior year, she figured out which school I really went to.)

A decade later, I walk around New York in a Mizzou shirt and regularly hear people screaming “MIZ!” from across the road, the same way I see Michigan grads yelling “Go Blue!” when they see Wolverines gear. We even have a bar in the city, and we fill it every Saturday.

A photo posted by Mizzou NYC (@mizzounyc) on


It took a decade of success for Mizzou to switch the conversation. Why? Old timers in the state still think about Mizzou as the hapless team from the ‘90s and early ’00s that couldn’t win big games and could never beat Nebraska. But the younger generation — people like me, or the kids just entering Mizzou now — only know Missouri as a perennial football contender. In the decade we’ve been following Mizzou, we’ve only ever seen success. So why should we expect anything different?

It took an entire generation of success — a full decade of winning — to change the conversation.

And that’s gotten me thinking about the idea of a decade of great work. My first big journalism breakthrough came in the summer of 2008, when I covered the Olympics for the Rocky Mountain News. Which means that I’m two years away from that 10-year mark. In that decade, I think I’ve had enough highs (Stry.us, the RJI fellowship, BuzzFeed, speeches at several conferences) to have built a reputation in the industry. I’m not all the way there yet, but eight years in, I’ve established myself through my work.

Here’s to changing the conversation — and finishing off that decade strong.

———

That photo of Mizzou football in 2007 comes via Flickr, a Creative Commons license, and Jim Ross for EAGLE 102 Sports.

Better Passes, Better Catches: How To Live Your Life the Bethesda Magic Way.

The year was 1996. OJ went on trial in California. Michael Johnson ran away from everyone at the Atlanta Games. Garry Kasparov lost to an IBM computer in chess.

And, probably most notable of all: The Bethesda Magic recreational basketball team was formed.

I was one of the original Magic. There are many things I could say about Bethesda Magic basketball. I could tell you that in 1999, one of our players played an entire game in blue jeans. I could tell you that for several years, more players on the team owned Rec Specs than basketball shoes. I could mention that for several seasons running, a player on our team attempted to score on the wrong basket.

I should probably also mention that we were not very good.

It wasn’t until our 15th game as a team — the final game of our second season — that we won a game by anything other than forfeit.

But we ended up playing for 10 seasons. In our final three seasons, we actually won more games than we lost. By the end, we started to actually learn things. We didn’t totally suck.

I remember that decade of rec basketball fondly. Most of all, I remember the lessons that our coach — Coach Dinerstein — taught us. He was not a very good coach, by pretty much any metric through which you measure basketball coaching ability. We all probably knew more about basketball than Coach. But in his own way, he taught us a lot about basketball.

And if I may be bold enough to say: Some of his lessons remain true today.

Master the Fundamentals

If there’s one thing that I’ll always remember about Coach, it’s that he spent more time talking about passing than any coach I’ve ever seen. Our practices were 65 percent passing drills. We practiced bounce passes and chest passes all night long, with Coach walking around yelling, “Throw better passes! Make better catches!” This was rather necessary, because when we started, none of us could pass. I was particularly fond of throwing behind-the-back passes from the high post. The problem was that nobody ever caught them.

So we spent a lot of time practicing our passes and catches. We were determined to be more fundamentally sound than any other team in our league.

And by 12th grade, we were! Nobody threw a bounce pass like the Bethesda Magic. Our passes were crisp, our catches were clean.

Coach knew that great teams start with great teamwork. The best teams share the ball. So that’s what he made us do, every practice for 10 years.

Understanding What’s Important

Of course, there’s a catch to the all-passing, all-the-time practices: We didn’t really practice shooting. So we’d pass it beautifully in games. But then somebody would be open, and we’d yell, “Shoot!,” and that player would be forced to actually heave the ball at the basket. It rarely went in. And that’s kind of an issue in a game where scoring points matters.

Ultimately, you have to know what’s most important in your quest to do the work right. If you’re a small business, it doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered social media and if you’ve got a YouTube video that’s gone viral. If your product stinks, you’re not going to be in business very long.

We were a basketball team that couldn’t shoot, and if you can’t shoot, you can’t win. This was a fairly big hole in our overall basketball strategy.

Whenever I master a new skill, I try to ask myself: How does this change the way I do my work? If it doesn’t bring me a step closer to doing better work, then I need to refocus on different skills.

Keep Things Simple

In about sixth grade, Coach decided we were ready to add set plays to our game plan. We had two plays. Coach decided that when we ran Play no. 1, our point guard would yell out the name of a fruit. When we ran Play no. 2, our point guard would yell out the name of a vegetable.

In games, our point guard was fond of yelling out, “Tomato!,” which typically led to the team running both plays simultaneously.

We didn’t score very often.

There was one team in our league, though, that ran a play well. This was kind of amazing, actually. Sixth graders aren’t typically smart enough to do anything well that requires mass coordination.

This team’s play was called “UConn.” They ran it after every basket they scored. “UConn” was the call to set up their pressure defense.

Here’s how it worked: Their entire team swarmed the ball in the backcourt until our point guard turned it over. Then they took the ball and shot a layup.

It was a stupid play. It was painfully simple. It was basically five guys running at the ball simultaneously. It wouldn’t work on any team with players taller than 5’3”.

But none of us had hit puberty. So it worked. Every. Single. Time.

Simple things can be effective things, too.

 

Remember to Enjoy the Work

We were not very good. And if we had taken ourselves seriously, we wouldn’t have made it past the first season.

But we loved our teammates. We loved playing together. We were happy playing basketball together — even when we didn’t win.

And while other teams were in their huddles, yelling at each other, we were goofing around in ours.

Work should be fun. It can sometimes be stressful, and agonizing, and difficult.

But if it’s never fun, that’s a problem.

We lost more than we won. But nobody ever looked at us after a game and thought that we weren’t enjoying ourselves.

All these years later, my teammates from the Bethesda Magic are still some of my closest friends. We made a hell of a team.

Were we any good? Not really.

But we were everything I want from any team I’m a part of. We had fun. We knew our roles. We played together. We learned a lot.

Although I’m not sure if any of us will ever be totally sure whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.

Why I Look Happily Towards The Future of Missouri Football, and What Exactly I Mean By That.

There is a very strange realization I came to tonight:

Fans of my alma mater believe that who we were define who we are.

And I do not.

I was with this girl tonight. She is Missouri-born and a Tiger fan through and through. She loves this team. She actually understands football.

And tonight, when the Mizzou-Arizona State game went to overtime, she immediately said: “We’re going to choke.”

I asked her why, and she said, “Because Mizzou always does.”

And that’s thinking I used to be able to get behind. But lately, something’s changed.

See, when I showed up at this school, Mizzou wasn’t very good at sports. We lost. Always. And usually in rip-your-heart-out fashion.

But since I’ve been here: We’ve won far more than we’ve lost. We’ve beaten the #1 team in the country. Been ranked #1. Been to two Big 12 title games. Won a New Year’s Day bowl.

Longtime Mizzou fans forget this, though. Because in their minds, we’ve always been bad, and we always will be. Even when we’re winning. Even when we’re beating the #1 team in the country.

For them, past is present.

I don’t think like that anymore. I’ve rooted for a lot of bad teams. I’ve seen a Maryland football team get dominated by Ohio. Not Ohio State. OHIO University. I’ve seen teams like American and William & Mary beat my beloved Terps basketball team. I’ve seen the Redskins falter and falter. I’ve seen my Caps fall again and again.

My hometown of Washington, D.C., is closing in on Cleveland as America’s worst sports town. This is not a good thing.

But what I am certain of is this: It is the hard times that make the big wins that much sweeter. As a fan, we need losses like tonight’s. We need to be demolished sometimes.

Because one of these days, a win will come along that reminds us of why we watch in the first place. And it will be all the sweeter because of it.

I believe in the future of Missouri football. I believe there will be heartbreak, and I believe there will be greatness.

And I am damn sure that I will be out at a bar rooting hard for those Tigers every Saturday. I’ll be watching because I believe: Good things come this way.

I hope next Saturday brings better things for my Tigers. I really do.

Here’s to You, Championship Week. And Here’s To You, Bill Raftery.


This is my favorite week of the year. It has been since I was in fourth grade, and my dad took me to the ACC Tournament for the first time. It was in Greensboro, North Carolina, and we stayed at a two-level drive-in motel with red brick and paint fading off the second-floor guardrails. There was a breakfast place in the parking lot, and I had waffles every day for breakfast, and I sat at the counter with my dad. I was reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and the waitress was telling my dad how remarkable it was that a kid was reading a paper as massive as that, and then we went to the games — two the afternoon, then a break, then two more at night, the best eight teams in the ACC and eight of the best in the country playing for a crowd that had given everything to come to Greensboro(1) on a Friday in March, some of them winning lotteries from their schools just to earn the right to pay a few hundred dollars to sit in their seats — and then coming back to our room on the second floor of the motel, and my dad was asking me if I wanted to watch a WAC league game out west, something between Nevada and Hawaii, or maybe Utah, and of course I did, until it was 1 o’clock in the morning and my dad was asleep, and I was still up watching basketball between these two teams, and I couldn’t even tell you which was which, but I knew that I didn’t want to stop watching. Couldn’t stop watching.

I was in fourth grade, a kid at this giant tournament in this tiny town, and it was impossible not to feel like it was all happening, and I was right there for it. I felt very, very big.

I’m lucky enough to have been to three ACC tournaments since then — plus two Missouri Valley Conference tournaments when I was out in school in Columbia, Mo. — but when I’m not at the games in person, I’m watching on TV. And I’m watching all of them: the CAA, the SoCon, the MWC, the WCC. It’s the only week of the year where I can be caught screaming during a Sun Belt game, and any decent fan (or roommate) will understand why. There’s great basketball on all day, every day, for an entire week leading up to Selection Sunday. There’s not a more fun week of the entire year.

Now, there’s nothing quite like the in-person spectacle of the ACC Tournament when the teams are great, but no tournament quite translates to on-the-couch viewing like the Big East Tournament. The games are always played up at Madison Square Garden, for one. The history of tournament is excellent. The crowds — especially for big rivalries, like UConn-Syracuse — are loud, and the Garden just seems to amplify whatever the crowd throws into the game.

But for me, the Big East Tournament is all about two guys: Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery.

They’re two of the color guys on ESPN, and they’re always assigned to the Big East Tournament. Always. The Big East Tournament now goes five days, during which they’ll call nine games. (ESPN, in a sign of mercy, doesn’t make them work all four games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.) And when a game is good — and Big East Tournament games always are, especially as the weekend draws near — there aren’t many better than Bilas and Raftery.

You don’t listen to a game Bilas and Raftery are calling. You watch it with them.

So this is my way of giving back for all those years of watching Championship Week. Here’s a little audio ditty I put together this morning, full of some of my favorite moments from Raftery, the announcer with enthusiasm that television speakers can’t contain. Thanks for being part of my favorite week of the year, Bill.

One Minute of Onions by earlyonions

  1. Greensboro!

This Was My Favorite Story To Write Here in Biloxi. Please Stop Asking.

In my three months in Biloxi, the question that’s been my “Do you play basketball?” is, “What’s your favorite story from down here?” I’ve been told of miracles and horrors, and I’ve become intimately familiar with the inner workings of both local government and insurance contracts. But my favorite story to write down here didn’t have anything to do with rebuilding homes or fighting BP. It’s about — and my mother could have predicted this for you a few months ago, for the record — football.

Specifically, an ex-football coach I interviewed during my first week in Biloxi. Here’s one of those stories that, in any other journalism job, I don’t find. It’s almost wholly unrelated to the rebuilding efforts in Biloxi, at least at surface level, and its central character isn’t intimately connected to any of the subjects I’ve covered down here(1). No rational boss says, Sure, Dan, spend an hour on a Thursday afternoon talking to a guy who doesn’t have any leads for you.

But here’s a story that I got by 1.) Not being in a rush, and 2.) Being okay with wasting a few minutes and listening. The result: the story that I had the most fun writing.

You can go back to asking me how the weather is up here, Biloxi.

(N.B. The photo above is from a D’Iberville HS football game last month. It has no connection to anything I’ve written above other than that it involves a football.)

  1. e.g.: The insurance industry, BP, business development, gaming, tourism, mental health, egregious lawsuits, et al.

The Bums Who Would Be Champs (or: Macho Hercules!)

In the fall of 2007, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. The rationale was simple: I was running out of classes to take at the University of Missouri, and also, I could get away with it. Seemed logical enough at the time.

I decided that I’d go to Spain, and the study abroad office at Mizzou gave me a few options. I took the brochures home, studied the pictures intently, and then did what seemed right.

I Googled to see which of these places had the best soccer teams.

I settled upon Alicante, a sprawling seaside city just south of Valencia. They had miles of beaches, a busy bar district and, most importantly, two soccer teams. The first was Alicante CF, a third division team that made a remarkable run that spring and was promoted to the second division. (1) The other was second division Hercules CF, my team of choice, with a color scheme of royal blue and French’s mustard yellow, and a large Greek bust as their crest.

I’d be lying if I said Hercules was an great team that year. They were bums. But they were my bums, and I loved them for it. They were just good enough to avoid being sent down to third division, and just bad enough to stay well clear of the promotional zone. (2) I went to games, I cheered, and I even bought a scarf from a street vendor. I’d have bought a jersey, too, but Hercules wasn’t good enough to have a team store. I’d have gone beer for beer with Hercules fans, but Hercules had neither fans nor beer. (3)

This was not a team that featured many star athletes. Some teams put their best players on posters. Hercules put Jesus.

Jesus can save, I suppose, but he can’t score. That’s why the year I studied abroad, Hercules finished in sixth place in the second division, almost entirely on the strength of star midfielder Tote. Tote carried the team again in 2008-9, when the team finished fourth, just points away from promotion to La Liga.

This seemed alright with me. Hercules were bums, and I felt that they belonged somewhere right in the middle of second division. In a way, their continued mediocrity reminded me that the city I’d studied abroad in hadn’t gotten too big for its own good.

But then this season, the breakthrough came. I checked the box scores and the post-game reports weekly. I watched as Hercules got out far ahead of the pack, seven points clear of the third place team in the second division. Tote and the boys were a lock to advance to La Liga. But I also watched as that lead disappeared, as Hercules’ new fans panicked and called for the coach’s head.

Alicante, it seemed, would be spared success in the end.

And then, with two weeks to go in the season, my bums got a break. The two teams ahead of them choked; Hercules, meanwhile, got an 87th minute goal and a 2-1 win. In the last game, all Hercules needed to do was beat Real Union, the second-worst team in second division. Win, and Hercules was headed to La Liga. But, I reminded myself, the game was on the road, and besides, this was Hercules. I prepared myself for humiliation.

And then they won.

I don’t know how long it will last — the last time Hercules made La Liga, in 1996, they were sent back down at season’s end. But I do know that next season, Real Madrid and Barcelona, among others, will come to Alicante, Spain, to play. And a team that was lucky to draw a few thousand fans two years ago will be playing in front of a packed house.

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. I fell in love with a group of bums. But now that they’re in La Liga, they’re heroes. Their fans might be able to buy overpriced Hercules gear in an actual team store, or use bathrooms that have actual working sinks. Their games might actually be broadcast on American ESPN. People might actually expect them to win. It will be different. Not better, necessarily, but different.

It was easy to love them as some second-division bums who nobody had ever heard of. It was easy to root for them because I didn’t have to take them too seriously.

But now that they’re champions? Now that Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be coming to town? It’s all becoming real. I’m suddenly forced to make a decision: do I take my level of fandom up a notch? I root for the Terps, the Caps, the Nats and the Tigers. Do I start really rooting for Hercules too?

It was all so much easier when they were just bums.

  1. They were promptly and harshly sent back down the following season due to an unfortunate tendency to lose games.
  2. In Spain, the top teams play in a division called La Liga, or The League. Anyone outside La Liga is irrelevant.
  3. Their stadium, Estadio Rico Perez, had two bathrooms and one concession stand, which sold non-alcoholic beer, potato chips and soda.

When Suggesting That a French Man Needs to Move Lands You on New York Sports Talk Radio.

Posterized.

The first thought was that I was being pranked. Sure, I’d just written a fairly controversial column about why the Spurs should trade Tony Parker for Kens5.com. It had generated quite a few hits on our website, and I’d gotten plenty of e-mail feedback from readers about it.

But a radio station in New York City calling to ask if they could chat about the column? That’s a first.

And yet, I made my Big Apple debut on ESPN 1050 Wednesday night, talking with Bill Daughtry about, of all things, San Antonio Spurs basketball. And for a full 10 minutes. For loyal danoshinsky.com readers who missed it live, I’ve recaptured it below. Next week, I hope to land 20 minutes talking all things Matt Bonner on a morning show in Milwaukee.

Wait, You People Still Speak to Each Other?

I haven’t been home to D.C. since I left for south Texas just over seven months ago. I keep up with some home friends via phone, and I caught up with a few earlier this month out in L.A. But for a good chunk of news and gossip from home, I rely on an email listserv that circulates amongst the guys from home.

So when I found out today that someone who we all went to elementary school with was joining an American football team in Spain, it seemed implausible. At work, I run three different Twitter clients at all times. I have a cell phone, a landline, a Google Voice number, an actively updating Facebook news feed and at least three email accounts. How the hell had I not heard about this already? (1)

Usually, when anything semi-important happens involving someone at home — say, two kids from my high school getting their Cal Tech-certified game theory paper on waiting for the bus published in the New York Times Magazine — I know about it. But this one had eluded the listserv, apparently.

I emailed into the group to see what the word was. A response came back: “not true, i — and i thought others — knew about this like a week ago if not more?”

A week? Three constantly updating Twitter feeds — and I was behind by a week?

I searched my Gmail account. No word of any Spanish football league teams. I emailed my friend back: Was there some alternate, super-secret listserv circulating?

Then the response came:

“The secret listserv you refer to is in fact the technologically archaic word-of-mouth.”

Oh.



Post-script: Since this post was published, everyone from home has been piling on. “I would like to amend your latest blog update,” wrote one friend. “You were behind at least a month. I knew about Carl in December at least.”

Another, studying abroad: “even i knew and i am in a third world country living in a rice village.”

And worst of all, from my mother: “Actually, I knew that.”

  1. And as someone who considers himself a legitimate sports fan — and someone who spent half of 2008 living in Spain — how was I unaware that Spain had an American football league?

The Day I Accidentally Rooted for Kansas.

I want to take it back.

I cannot un-know what I know. I cannot reverse time. I cannot deny what has happened.

But I cannot imagine going on knowing that one day, fourteen years ago, I may have accidentally rooted for Kansas.

¶¶

My dad used to do a bit of work with the D.C.-area Boys and Girls Club, which was affiliated with the D.C. police, which was the reason why dad always ended up as the policeman in my elementary school’s annual Sock Hop production of the “YMCA.” But it’s also the reason why we ended up at a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club, this one put on by the Washington Redskins.

The MC that night was Chris Berman. He did a couple “back back back” jokes, the DJ played “Hail to the Redskins,” and then Berman tossed it to the live auction.

One of the items was a trip to Kansas City to see the Redskins play. I do not know why — I was only 7 at the time, and I’d never been to Missouri before — but I asked my dad if I could bid on it. He said yes.

He thought I’d bid once or twice and get out of it.

I wanted to win.

The ballroom must’ve held a thousand people, maybe more, so it’s understandable why the auctioneer didn’t initially notice my arm shooting into the air. But around $300, my Uncle Sol caught his eye and gave him a wave in my direction.

“$300,” he said, and pointed at me.

This being my first live auction, I was unfamiliar with the bidding process. I didn’t notice other people taking their hands down after bidding. So even after the auctioneer pointed at me, I kept my arm up. He looked elsewhere. Someone bid $350. He looked back at me.

“$400,” he said.

My arm stayed in the air.

It went on like this for a few more rounds. Dad told me to stop bidding; my hand stayed in the air. But by then, it was too late. It was down to just me and one other contender.

I bid, and the auctioneer looked at the other bidder. He was consulting with his wife. How much was too much to spend on a mid-November trip to Kansas City? he was surely asking. She gave him a look. His arm stayed by his side.

“Going once,” the auctioneer said. His eyes swept the room. He caught my eye. My hand was still in the air.

“You can’t bid against yourself,” he said. The entire room laughed.

When the room quieted, he asked for a second time, and then a third, but the other bidder didn’t match.

¶¶

When you’re seven, it’s only the weird things that stick out. Going to Kansas City, I remember we flew Midwest Express out of the old terminal at National Airport, and I remember that the stewardesses gave us real silverware to eat our in-flight meal with. I remember that we stopped in Milwaukee, and that dad wanted to buy me a Green Bay Packers cheese head. (I wasn’t interested.) I remember going to a barbecue place in Kansas City, where they used paint brushes to slather sauce on their brisket sandwiches, and where the food was wrapped in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star. (The barbecue place turned out to be the legendary Arthur Bryant’s.) I remember the omelete bar at the hotel, and I remember regretting having gone through six or seven eggs at breakfast before the flight back to D.C.

The game itself was less memorable. We had seats in the upper deck behind one of the benches. It was cold. The Redskins lost, and I remember Brian Mitchell dropping a pass in the end zone on a 4th down. The box score doesn’t provide much help: the Redskins ran through Gus Frerotte and Heath Shuler at QB that day. It didn’t matter. They lost, 24-3.

But it’s this other memory that’s started to bother me.

¶¶

Not having anything to do on a Saturday in Kansas City, my dad and I decided to drive out to Lawrence, Kan., to see a football game.

I’d long since forgotten the opponent, but I was thinking about the game yesterday, and I checked in with Google to see if it could offer any answers. I tracked down the date of the Redskins-Chiefs game, and then cross-checked it with the KU football schedule.

The day was Nov. 4, 1995, and I watched as the Kansas Jayhawks beat the Missouri Tigers, 42-23. That’s what the box score says, but I don’t remember it. My memories from that day are hollow: a long, flat stretch of highway out to Lawrence; a half-empty stadium; and something about a giant drum. I can’t know for sure, but I’d guess that my dad and I cheered for Kansas that day.

What I didn’t know is that a decade later, I’d be enrolling at the University of Missouri.

¶¶

It’s weird, now, but I feel almost wronged by the memory. There is the Chase Daniel cover of Sports Illustrated hanging next to my bed. There is a Brad Smith jersey hanging in the closet. There is a copy of the Mizzou alumni magazine on the coffee table.

And then there is this memory, of a chilly fall day, of a horseshoe stadium, of a rivalry game that I didn’t fully understand.

A decade later, I’d fall in love with one of those teams. I’d plan my Saturdays around their Saturdays, and their glory would become my glory.

But on Nov. 4, 1995, I’m afraid that I rooted for the wrong one.

I wish I’d known then. I wish I didn’t know now.