Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jim Brown, More than a Lacrosse Player for Me

Front row: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabar. June 4, 1967 press conference given by the top African American athletes of that time in support of Ali’s opposition to the Vietnam War draft.

Growing up playing lacrosse in the 1970s and 1980s, I never saw Jim Brown play. What I knew about him was based on seeing him on myriads of NFL highlight films particularly as Walter Payton came ever closer to breaking Browns all time rushing records and from my Dad. “That Jim Brown is bad!” my dad would often say, impressed by Browns black cool style and black militancy as he destroyed one color barrier and stereo-type in American society after another. Brown refused to accept racist customs and submit to white privilege and my Dad admired Big Jim for that. He like Malcolm X, Bill Russell, Ali, Kareem, and the two brothers, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who gave the black power salute during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Brown would not compromise his views for fear that it would hurt his career and pay check. I met Jim Brown in 1984 when we (Syracuse) played Hobart College the Div III national champions in 83 in Manhasset High School’s Lacrosse Day of Champions on the island, a great event. This coincided with Brown’s induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1983. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"The Hinterland of the Game:" Michigan Lacrosse in the 1980s

Fred Opie scoring in a 1985 championship game
 loss to John Hopkins at Brown University
I played high school lacrosse in Michigan which, in the 1980’s, was the hinterland of the game. Back then, ESPN only showed the national championship on tape delay and that was all the DI lacrosse we’d see all year. With VHS tape rolling, I sat in front of the TV to watch the 1985 Syracuse vs. Hopkins NCAA Championship. Early in the game, an SU longstick named Fred Opie came down the field on a quick transition and passed it to attackman Tim Nelson. Instead of turning and heading to the box, he kept going toward the net. A quick pass to the crease and BANG! The longstick puts a behind the back shot in the net. Fred’s goal was an inspiration to me and countless other young lacrosse players. It showed creativity and courage. From that point on, I approached the development of my sticks skills as a defenseman in a different way. Gone was the premise that defenseman don’t really need to know how to handle the ball. With Hopkins winning the game, 11-4, Fred’s goal is somewhat lost to history. For at least one lacrosse player, it made all the difference in the world. Fred went on to represent his country and even wear the God awful bike shorts in the MILL. To me he will always be that SU longstick with the sick stick skills. Even today when I throw around with my kids in the yard, I shoot one behind the back in Fred’s honor.

Guess Blogger Sean Higgins.

*If you are interested in being a guess blogger, please send your story to me, Fred Opie, on Facebook I am especially interested in Syracuse lacrosse stories and photos during my playing days.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Coaches Endorsement Means Allot

Me covering UNC’s Pat Welsh in game in the Carrier Dome in 1985  

The summer of my junior year at Syracuse University, I worked my butt off on just squaring up and playing solid defense. I would go to the Snowden Ave Park in the African American section of Ossining, a village that bordered my hometown, to play basketball. I’d try and match up with the better offensive players and work on my defense. I imagine people started taking noticing my ability to play defense and pass because I people picked me when they had next game. When I returned to Syracuse in the fall my senior year in 84, I had dropped down from 205 to 178lbs. Thanks to drills and lower body workouts with weights from then SU strength coach Mike Wocik, I had a tremendous quickness and great footwork. I had a great fall ball season and excelled in several scrimmages including a tournament down at Rutgers University. I didn’t know that John took Desko had noticed until in our season opener in the Spring against Hopkins. John is naturally an introvert in my opinion who doesn't freely share his thoughts like coach Simmons did. So John can be more challenging to read. It was wasn't until he assigned me to cover returning first team All American Del Dressel that I came to see he had confidence in my play. I was scared and went to Tim Nelson for his take on how I should cover Dressel. Tim gave me a vote of confidence that I will forever remember. “Op,” he said, “just play your game, you can handle him.” That’s when my confidence had totally returned following a poor showing my junior year. John next assigned me to cover UNC's Pat Welsh in our second or third game of the season on close defense. I was shocked but again understood that John now believed in me. I really had a great senior year defensively and continued to improve as a post-collegiate player at the club level. So in short, winning John Desko’s endorsement meant a lot to me as a player because John has always been a great coach in my opinion with a great mind for the game. He's a no nonsense guy and a straight shooter. I have been impressed at how he has taken on the job as head coach coming out of his comfort zone to be the spokesmen of the SU lacrosse program something that as a introvert must not be easy for him but he's doing a great job handling interviews etc. John is most in his element talking Xs and Os on a chalk board and breaking down films. So his comments in the form of a casual conversation, gave me the confidence I needed to tryout out for the 90 team. The lesson here is coaches, be careful what you say, even in casual conversations to your players. And players, laziness is the enemy of excellence and discipline is a consistent movement toward excellence.