Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The first is gratitude. Thank you for showing us this game, for elevating it, for giving us new eyes through the prism of your own vision of what it can be. Thank you for indelible moments. Thank you for your brilliance and your joy and all the toil and struggle and heartbreak you endured to reach a place where you could give them to yourself and your teammates and, by extension, to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The second is the concept of change in two distinct senses: the change the athlete has wrought upon their chosen game, and the change their absence will impart to it. If the circumstances and public conception of an entire sport were different before you arrived and will be different after you leave, that's a rare and beautiful thing.
Abby Wambach just walked off a professional soccer field for the last time. It is probably impossible to overstate what she has done for the game in America, and definitely impossible to overstate her impact on a great many things that were both about soccer and beyond it. There will be far better retrospectives written by far more knowledgeable people than me, and I think it's probably best to leave the long-arc career narratives, her impact both on and off the pitch, to those better acquainted with a living legend.
What I really want to say is: Abby Wambach is the reason I love soccer. No one played better, cooler, more gleefully, more captivatingly, just MORE, than she did. Ever. She loved the game, loved her teammates, loved her life, just loved everything about soccer and existence so fiercely that if you were watching, you loved her because she made you love it all, too. She transubstantiated the sport.
And lots of other things, too.
She married her partner with no attendant press or trappings because fuck you why is this a thing? She continues to fight for an equal gender pay scale in sports and in general because it should be obvious to any person with a functioning cerebral cortex that this is right. She is both the greatest athlete of her sport and the least self-conscious athlete of her generation. Abby Wambach is a freaking miracle.
And she will probably hate all of the sappy and effusive retrospectives written about her career and life, including this one, so I'll get back to the top, to the two things every genius, sport-altering player makes us feel, and I'll say those things to Abby Wambach now:
Thank you. The game won't be the same without you. Thank you. For Everything.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
|Photo by Agatha Donkar @brandnewkindof|
Garbage defense. Garbage transition game. Garbage officiating. And absolutely G A R B A G E shooting. All those rebounds were simply a byproduct of the coterie of clangs and airballs that plagued Carolina (and Appalachian State, too) all game long. I mean, the Heels' shot chart is just oceans of nothingness perforated by tiny pinpricks of Destinee Walker treys and one small bright cluster in the paint. If they hadn't been able to finish at the rim and hadn't gone to the stripe a whopping 32 times, they would have put up maybe 40 points on the day. Maybe.
There were flashes of hope amid the disaster. Hillary Summers showed off some nifty offense we hadn't seen before, and Stephanie Watts looked excellent handling the ball when Sylvia put a bigger lineup on the floor. Both came up huge defensively with a combined eighteen boards and seven blocks. Xylina McDaniel added three rejections of her own to go along with 5 points, 4 dimes, and 2 steals, further proof that she's getting her game back. Jamie Cherry poured in twenty points, though she still looks a little off since the broken nose. Des put up a 17-4-3 line with 4 steals to boot. It all looks very nice on paper.
In real time, it was a disjointed effort full of baffling mistakes and shots that refused to fall. The whole thing was ugly and sluggish and physical in all the wrong ways. A 23-14 turnover-to-assist ratio is all you need to know about how things played out. It was not good or joyful or pleasant to watch in any way. I'm glad it's over and we can move on.
Carolina won, by the way. Go Heels.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
What he will leave behind in Athens is a conflicted legacy; a heap of goodwill and a pile of shattered expectations.
You know the good stuff. How Richt took a program that had been largely moribund and listless in the post-Vince Dooley years and turned it into a perennial SEC contender. How humble and gracious he was with fans and media. How he recruited better than damn near anyone else in the country, and how he loved every one of his players, five-stars and walk-ons alike, like family. Also, how he brooked no shenanigans from them at any point. Any UGA football player who put a toe out of line, broke a team rule, or got crosswise with the law, Richt's own moral compass, or both, was disciplined swiftly and (mostly) appropriately. He was never draconian about those moments; he simply believed that he had a greater responsibility to the players as people than just coaching up the best football team he could manage, and sometimes a good kick in the ass was the best way to get his point across. And the players didn't grouse or roll their eyes about it, even after they were long gone from Athens. The man was and is universally beloved by pretty much anyone who ever put on the red and black. Oh, and despite what recent "bout dang time" sentiments about his firing from a lot of Georgia fans would suggest, he won a very large number of football games, too.
You also know the bad stuff. How all that recruiting and "do things the right way" team ethos never quite translated in the biggest moments. For much of his time at Georgia, you could set your watch to one or two stupid, inexplicable losses per season. Richt's teams virtually always started the year ranked highly, and often finished that way too. But somewhere between Point A and Point B, there would be a few Hieronymus Bosch hellscape games. Florida was always a problem, as was South Carolina after Steve Spurrier arrived at the latter. And Tennessee, even if the Dawgs came out with a win, somehow injuring a staggering amount of Georgia players every single flippin' time they went to Knoxville. All those little blips cost the Dawgs a fair number of chances at winning national titles or at least being there at the end with a fighting chance. A glance at Richt's record against top-15 opponents shows a precipitous decline of late. For all his accomplishments, Richt has never been able to put it all together for the one immaculate, season-long campaign that a team has to have in order to win on the sport's biggest stage. At an elite program in the heart of SEC country, that sort of underperformance will eventually lead to being shown the door. Which is why Sunday happened.
Look, ultimately Mark Richt's successes have done far, far more good for Georgia football than his failings did the program harm. As of this writing, Kirby Smart is slated to succeed him, but the fact that any prospective candidate would have been a complete fool not to answer a phone call from AD Greg McGarity before that decision was made is largely Richt's doing. The bar he set (and then repeatedly cleared, although never quite highly enough) restored UGA to prominence in the national spotlight. This too: the fact that he did it all without any of the morally shaded compromises that pervade so many top-flight programs should be commended. (BTW - anyone who thought that overt morality somehow reflected a lack of obsessive competitiveness should remember that it was Richt who instigated that marvelous excessive celebration penalty on the opening TD aginst Florida in 2007.)
It is probably true that, despite the sustained run of good-to-great seasons, Richt's tenure in Athens had run its course and scaled all the heights it ever was going to. More and more over the past few years, it seemed those 10-win campaigns were never going to elevate into something bigger, and a change of scene was probably best at this juncture for both parties. Whether UGA is headed for a Nebraska-esque disaster or a national title under Kirby Smart is anyone's guess, but Mark Richt is leaving things in a significantly better state than when he arrived, and he coached a lot of fun teams and great players, and we should be grateful for that even if he never quite met our most outsized expectations. It's the most devout praise a Georgia fan can offer, and I'm offering it here on behalf of everyone because no matter how you felt about him at the end it's a fact:
Mark Richt was a Damn Good Dawg.