One team lets this sport writer remember what true fandom is all about

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Ali-Frazier I 'was some show' — and not just in the ring

In some ways, the manner in which I was raised was the perfect classroom for the job I presently have. In my house, we rooted for “New York.” My father might’ve slightly leaned toward the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks, but he was always quite pleased when the Mets, Jets, Islanders and Nets won, too.

That’s how it was. That’s what I knew. I realize that seems impossible and implausible in a time when taking sides is the law of the land. I learned that lesson in high school, when it was drilled into me that there were no half-measures in sports: You picked a side, and that was your side. Reluctantly, publicly, I played along.

Privately I rooted for “New York.”

It helps when you become a sports columnist in New York to have that kind of outlook, of course. We root for good stories, and it doesn’t matter the uniform. Good stories most often happen on good teams, so that’s OK with us, too. But you do lose something in the translation. It is easy to lose the essence of being a fan.

Short for “fanatic” of course.

Well, if you have read this column before, you probably know where this is going because I may have mentioned a time or two my alma mater, St. Bonaventure. And every so often that name appears with greater frequency in this space because, every so often, they find themselves within range of the NCAA Tournament.

This is one of those times. Sunday afternoon they’ll play VCU for the championship of the Atlantic 10 Conference, and for the automatic bid that goes along with it. Most prognosticators believe both teams have already done enough to merit inclusion in the field of 68. I think so, too, but I don’t have a vote.

I also thought so in 2016, and the committee disagreed with me, and I don’t want to say I’M STILL BITTER ABOUT IT BUT $##$%%$$ THE %^$$#$$% COMMITTEE AND A POX ON THEIR HOUSES AND DAMNED BE THEIR SOULS FOR THAT AND …

(Sorry. I think I passed out for a few seconds there.)

Anyway, I like to think of this aspect of my life as particularly useful for my job, because there are many times I hear from fans who insist I don’t get their plight, can’t get it, because I just don’t care about sports the way they care about sports.

On a certain level, they’re right: I haven’t lost sleep over any of the teams that wear “New York” (or “New Jersey”) on the front of their uniforms in a long, long time. It has been a long time since I watched a baseball game and sat in place while Mother Nature beckons, defying her long past the point at which it’s wise to do so, because the home team is rallying and you can’t abandon a lucky couch or La-Z-Boy.

It’s been a while since I watched an NBA game wearing the same sweatshirt for the eighth game in a row during a winning streak because, as Crash Davis taught us, you have to respect the streak. It’s been a long, long time since I had to drink to forget an especially egregious double-overtime loss helped along by incompetent refereeing and regrettable coaching and someone gagging in the clutch.

Well. With one exception.

And though it probably seems unhealthy, this relationship I have with the St. Bonaventure basketball team (my wife calls it alternately “sociopathic” and “pathetic”), I think it helps me understand all of those above behaviors because I embody those above behaviors. I am impossible to watch a Bonnies game with, impossible to be around when they lose, really impossible to be around when they’re winning because I never shut up about them.

I think it’s important — essential really — to retain at least a little fanatic if you’re going to write sports for fans. It’s important to get it. I think the Bonnies help me get it.

I also think if they lose Sunday, it will be three long hours between final buzzer and “Selection Show,” and I’ll be ready to light up everyone, from the Bracketologists to Howie Hoops (who damn well better have picked the right way elsewhere in this newspaper) to the godless members of the %^$$#$$% committee to …

(Sorry. It happened again.)

Vac’s Whacks

Come the end of this month, it’s going to be an awfully cool thing to welcome my great pal of many years, Ian O’Connor, to The Post’s sports pages. I’d liken the excitement in the section to what Crosby, Stills and Nash probably felt when Neil Young joined the band.

I feel really good for the St. John’s fan base. They really liked this team and have displayed almost universal approval for the direction the Johnnies are headed (rightly so). In 2021, you rarely see this combination of patience and gratitude. Good times ahead.

It sure felt like a balloon popping on an awfully fun season when Anders Lee struggled off the ice on Long Island the other night. He’s a joy to watch. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

Living vicariously through Stanley Tucci every Sunday “Searching for Italy” the past few weeks has been the latest preferred way to grind through pandemic life.

Whack Back at Vac

Frank Venis: When I saw you rated stickball No. 1, it brought back great memories of growing up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. We played from morning till there was enough light. Thank you.

Vac: As Billy Joel sang in one of his greatest lyrics: “Learned stickball as a formal education …”

Bruce Welsch: I was 18 at the time of the Ali-Frazier fight, and I have never anticipated an event of any kind before or since — and it did live up to its billing as “The Fight of the Century.” I’m not happy I’m a senior citizen, but I do have say I was fortunate to be around to see it even though it was via closed-circuit TV.

Vac: As I’ve started to learn myself, the downside of age is … well, aging. But the upside is being able to build a collection of memories that nobody can ever take away from you. Especially sporting memories.

@AlienAiden: I think the NCAA should have scheduled the tournament two weeks after the conference tournaments. Everyone will be recovering from all over the country.

@MikeVacc: Of all the sports that have grinded through the pandemic, I always felt college hoops was the most fragile and most likely to encounter problems. Here’s hoping they can make it another couple of weeks.

Don Dunphy Jr.: I very much enjoyed your column on Ali-Frazier. My Dad always thought that event was the No. 1 sporting event in New York’s history … and he was very grateful to have been able to call the fight. (Tickets were impossible, of course. My mom saw it on closed-circuit at the Garden).

Vac: Don’t ever believe me if I try to tell you I don’t have the coolest job on earth. Listening to Don Dunphy Sr. call that fight when it was re-broadcast last week brings it to life in so many ways.

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