Writing about sports is one part analyzing what happened yesterday and one part predicting what will happen tomorrow. Looking back, of course, is much easier than looking ahead. To prove the point, take a look at my predictions from the September/October 1997 issue of the BAM.
Begin with football. I focused on a middle linebacker and a few other underappreciated, non-marquee players. "Want to understand the football team's chances this year?" I wrote. "Think defense." Unfortunately, those who actually strapped on the pads and threw the pigskin thought offense. Explosive, record-shattering offense. Offense that produced such lopsided victories as the Bears' 42- 11 burial of Columbia and their 45-14 drubbing of Fordham. Brown's linebackers did fine, but marquee players such as quarterback James Perry '00 and receiver Sean Morey '99 were among the best the University has ever seen.
I did better in predicting a trip back to the NCAA tournament for men's soccer. Indeed, Mike Noonan's charges beat Dartmouth in overtime for the Ivy title and advanced to the tournament's first round, where they were stopped by St. John's. My smug satisfaction over this prognostication was short-lived, however. In the same column, I assured readers that women's soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and basketball would all be shoo-ins for their respective Ivy crowns. In the case of volleyball, I even bragged that the prediction was "an easy call."
Not quite. Each and every one of these teams wound up suffering through losing seasons, in a couple of cases their worst seasons in years. Even my easy call turned into an easy fall, as the women's volleyball team, which had been the Ivy champion the year before, did no better than 14-17. It now appears, in fact, that receiving a rosy prediction from me is worse than the famed Sports Illustrated cover jinx. (For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, writers have often noted that being singled out for the cover of SI is usually followed by a major career slump.) Call it the BAM hoodoo.
Fortunately for our hardworking athletes, the converse - call it the BAM slam - appears also to work. A put-down from me means almost certain glory. Also last year, for example, I offered the following bit of trenchant sports insight regarding the women's hockey squad: "Coming off a storied 28-2-1 season," I wrote, "this team has nowhere to go but down." Yeah, right. As the Brown Daily Herald aptly put it, "The 1997-98 Bears certainly forced that writer to put his foot in his mouth." I gagged on my size-nine Converse All-Stars as the women icers beat top-ranked University of New Hampshire, 4-3, to become the first Ivy team ever to win the ECAC tournament and to skate all the way to the Division I national finals (where they ultimately lost to the same UNH team). It's a wonder I've still got a job.
Best Yale game ever. Since the days of Cole Porter fight songs, Eli football teams have inflicted grave damage on Brown squads. This year the Bears got revenge. Thanks to the bull's-eye accuracy of quarterback James Perry, Brown chowed down on the Bulldogs, 52-14. The fifty-two points were the most the Bears had ever scored against Yale, and the thirty-eight-point margin of victory was the largest ever in 102 meetings between the teams.Tivon Abel '98 finished his college career as the fifth best wrestler in the country.
Best shot-blocker.Women's soccer coach Phil Pincince says goalie Elise Roy '00 "has the makings of being one of the best in Brown history." This is all the more remarkable since Roy, who recorded shutouts last fall against the University of Rhode Island, the University of Maine, Northeastern University, and Providence College, is hearing-impaired. She communicates with defenders by pointing and calling out, but unlike other goalies, she can't benefit from teammates' or coaches' warnings in the heat of battle. One benefit: she's rarely rattled by fans yelling at her from behind the net.
Biggest sacrifice for a team. In late May, five seniors decided to skip Commencement to lead this year's sailing team, which happens to be all women, in winning the national championships on New Orleans's Lake Pontchartrain. The women beat sixteen other teams in the competition's coed division.
Best hockey player (for a guy). With women's hockey grabbing all the headlines, it was easy to overlook the Brown skaters whose five-o'clock shadows lurk behind their face guards. Forward Damian Prescott '98 not only led the Bears in scoring, but ranked seventh nationally in goals per game and finished with the second-most goals (eighteen) in the ECAC. Prescott also ed the Ivy League in scoring, was named to the All-ECAC first team, and became the first Brown player since Bob McIntosh '77 to net twenty goals in back-to-back seasons.
Best repeat performance. Women's swimming is enjoying a golden age. Led by freestyler Katie Cowan '00 and backstroker Nikki Dryden '98, the Bears captured the Ivy trophy in March, placing it in the Pizzitola case next to the ones they collected for their 1996 and 1997 Eastern championships. Matt Kredich, who coaches both the women's and men's swim teams, earned his third straight Eastern Coach of the Year award - this time for guiding the once-hapless guys to a third-place finish in the regional tournament.
Worst ending to a great career. Guard Aaron Butler '99, one of the stars of Brown's struggling men's basketball squad, led the Bears in scoring in 1996-97 with 13.7 points per game. He also netted double figures nineteen times. But that was before shoulder and knee injuries cut into his playing time and before he began battling with coach Frank Dobbs. This January, with the team at 3-11, Butler misbehaved, according to Dobbs, and was dismissed from the team. "He broke team rules," explained Dobbs, "and that's about all I can say."
Best brawler. After posting a 3-0 record at the Eastern championships, wrestling co-captain Tivon Abel '98 earned his third invitation to the NCAA tournament. Abel, who grapples at 158 pounds, pressed this opportunity to the mat by finishing fifth nationally and grabbing All-American honors.Coach Phil Pincince thinks goalie Elise Roy '00 (number 31) may be among the best soccer players Brown has ever seen.
Best hands. Wide receiver Sean Morey became the first player in Brown football history - and only the third junior in Ivy League history - to be named Ivy Player of the Year. Morey, who was also named a first-team All-American by the Football Gazette, has smashed every Brown and Ivy record for total receiving yards and touchdown catches. His 1,434 receiving yards last fall was the sixth best total in NCAA Division I-AA history and the best performance in the 1990s.
Worst year for the national pastime. While neither team has awakened memories of Casey Stengel's 1962 New York Mets (who finished a cool sixty games out of first place), the men's baseball and women's softball squads had an awful spring. The combined record of the two teams wound up at 22-63, due, in part, to youth and inexperience and to a rash of injuries to key players. The defending Ivy champion softballers sorely missed last season's Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and ice-hockey Olympian Katie King '97. The hardball team, meanwhile, tried to hang tough while its top two pitchers, Mike Scarlata '98 and Brian Chase '00, were on the disabled list.
Worst action photo. If it wasn't bad enough that I downplayed women's hockey in my annual predictions, the New York Times printed a less-than-flattering photograph of a Brown player appearing to trip a UNH skater during the national championship game. Those who saw the play say the picture is misleading, and no penalty was called. So, what does it take for the Bears to get some respect in the press these days? Maybe if all sportswriters were held accountable for their predictions...
Scoreboard(final Spring results)
Men's Crew 3-2
Women's Crew 7-0
Men's Lacrosse 4-9
Women's Lacrosse 6-8
Men's Tennis 11-8
Women's Tennis 10-11
Men's Outdoor Track 2-0
Women's Outdoor Track 2-0