Before the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation, many of us relied on the world of sports as a healthy distraction from the pressures of life. Over the past month, as all communal activities slowed before grinding to a complete halt, we have lost some of America’s most cherished pastimes.
From the NCAA tournament brackets that were never filled, to the all-out effort and out-of-body performances by the college players that can only be conjured in desperation, to the miraculous finishes that are too extraordinary for a Hollywood script — when it comes to missing March Madness, absence is only making my heart grow fonder. We can only hope that the moments we’ve lost help us cherish the moments we’ve had and will most definitely have again.
With every cancellation and postponement on the sports calendar, we drift further away from the world we once knew. For my family, a baseball family, Opening Day is a milestone that we look fondly toward. Not just because it marks the return of a game we love, but because of what it represents: a new beginning, presenting 162 more chances to fail miserably or succeed beyond our most optimistic expectations.
Opening Day is the unofficial start of spring for millions of Americans, but that day came and went on Thursday, March 26, and every stadium was empty. Not a single pitch was thrown nor Dodger dog consumed. I found myself wondering what to do in this endless winter.
CLASSIC GAMES: In this era of streaming services, YouTube is a treasure trove of classic games. Long gone are the days of waiting on ESPN to replay your favorite legendary performances. A variety of championship games and memorable matchups are a simple search away. Here are some games that will resonate with Southern California sports fans that are currently available to watch.
Lakers vs. Celtics, Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals: A must-watch for anyone missing the purple and gold during the NBA’s current hiatus. Kobe Bryant’s fifth and final championship is in the balance as the Lakers claw back from a double-digit deficit in the second half. Clutch shots, unlikely heroes, and the two most storied franchises in NBA history battling it out in a revival of the 1980s rivalry.
UCLA vs. Gonzaga, Sweet 16 of 2006 NCAA Championships: One of the most unlikely comebacks in UCLA’s storied history. The Bruins were stacked with future NBA talent — including Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Darren Collison, and Ryan Hollins — but trailed Gonzaga and the nation’s leading scorer, Adam Morrison, by 17 in the first half and nine with just over three minutes to play before mounting a furious comeback. The final moments epitomize the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
USC vs. Texas, 2006 BCS National Championship: Still considered by many to be the greatest college football game ever played. USC boasted two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and a 34-game winning streak. Texas quarterback Vince Young relished the underdog roll and proved to be the best player in the Rose Bowl on that storied night.
Santa Barbara High Football’s 2019 Season: In addition to these classic games, Santa Barbara High alum Carter Tran compiled a behind-the-scenes look at the football team’s 2019 run to the CIF Championship game. The three videos include the victory over Gahr that broke the 30-year playoff drought, the thrilling finish at Palm Desert, and the semifinal demolition of Palmdale. Find the videos via independent.com/dons2019.
GAMING: There is no shortage of sports simulations for those looking to fill the void. It also may be a fun way to find healthy competition, considering rec leagues and youth sports are also on hiatus. The EA Sports trio of FIFA 20, Madden NFL 20, and NHL 20 are all solid games. Sony interactive Entertainment released MLB The Show 20 on March 17, and it has received rave reviews.
However, my personal favorite sports game is NBA 2K20, which has Los Angeles Lakers star forward Anthony Davis on the cover. With a realistic career experience and topical story lines, users can blaze their own path to NBA stardom.
In addition, the online feature allows you to play against individuals from around the world and satisfy that competitive itch. Also, for the first time, all 12 WNBA teams, which includes over 140 female players, are in the game and available in play now and season modes.
YOUTH SPORTS UPDATE: Extra one-on-one time in the back yard has been a boon for my 2-year-old’s athletic development — his shooting percentage on our little tikes hoop has skyrocketed, and his miniature soccer net finally made it out of the closet. But for more advanced youngsters, who are waiting out the indefinite postponement of the sports leagues and clubs, staying sharp is a completely different challenge, especially within the framework of a team dynamic. Enter virtual sports training.
“We’re working on creative ideas in order to still engage our membership in the downtime,” said Santa Barbara Soccer Club director of coaching Gregory Wilson. “We’re going to be posting 30-45-minute workouts three times a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that will work on their individual skill sets. So the kids will actually be able to watch the session, conduct the session, and be online via Zoom with their coaches while they’re doing it.”
Santa Barbara Soccer Club has more than 1,000 members, between recreation kids and competitive players, which makes it one of the largest nonprofits in town. If necessity is truly the mother of invention, then we are looking at a virtual revolution at all levels of sports.
Once isolation is lifted, best practices can be identified with regards to individual development from virtual training and how that translates into real-life situations on the field and the team dynamic.
“From a director’s standpoint, I look at this time as being incredibly valuable,” Wilson said. “Whatever their sport of choice is, repetition of technical ability at every age group is critical. If we can create an environment where the players feel ownership of their own development, then they can come out further advanced on the technical side.”
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