Pillow Fight Friday

This used to be one of my favorite days of every year.

Every March, the Richmond Coliseum used to host the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Men’s Basketball Tournament; it would run from a Friday afternoon, usually the first or second in March, to the following Monday night: “12 Teams, 11 Games, 4 Days, 1 Champion.” That one Champion would get an automatic spot in March Madness.

The Friday of the Tournament was nicknamed (by us VCU fans) “Pillow Fight Friday;” it was when the eight worst teams would play to eliminate each other for the right to lose to one of the four best teams in the quarterfinals the next day. The first game started at high noon, and there would be four games on that day. Pillow Fight Friday was one of my very favorite days of every year. I didn’t have classes on Friday afternoons, and I would take the day off work as well. On that day, I would get up early, go to Dunkin Donuts for a Coolatta, then head to the Coliseum, where I’d get a general admission ticket, then go down to the front row since there were only maybe 200 people in the building for the Friday morning games, including the players, coaches, referees, and arena staff. It was understandable though, being a work day. There was almost nothing more relaxing, more therapeutic, than sitting inside the Coliseum, watching pressure-free college basketball before the real games with the good teams started the next day. You could hear the players talking to each other, every word the coaches said, and every little sound in the arena. The atmosphere was filled with anticipation for the rest of the Tournament, with the hope that my VCU Rams would end up winning it all.

Quarterfinal Saturday was when the real games began; that was usually when teams like VCU, Old Dominion, and George Mason would be involved, and most of the time at least one of those three would win to advance to the Semifinals. I always went to the Saturday evening quarterfinal games with my brother and some relatives; the Coliseum would be about half-full, depending on which teams were playing.

The Semifinals were played on Sunday afternoon, with the two winners advancing to Monday night’s Championship Game, which was usually a sellout, especially if one of the Virginia-based teams was in it. I went to the Final almost every year, and got to see VCU win it twice; in my first year at VCU, they won in a thriller, and we celebrated on the Coliseum court after the final buzzer sounded. That’s what all twelve CAA teams hoped for every year when they came to Richmond: that they would be the last team standing after Monday night’s Final, that their fans would get to be the ones to rush the court, and to lift the trophy and cut down the nets.

The winner of the Championship Game would be guaranteed an invitation to March Madness. Sometimes though, other teams from the CAA would be invited as well; in 2006, George Mason lost in the CAA Semifinals, but still got invited to March Madness, and made it all the way to the Final Four. In 2011, VCU lost a heartbreaker in the Championship Game against Old Dominion, yet still got invited to March Madness and won five games to make it to the Final Four. If George Mason in 2006 or VCU in 2011 had then won two more games, they would have been the National Champions. Both teams came out of nowhere and exploded into the national spotlight, and changed college basketball forever. To this day, the question is asked, “Who will be this year’s ‘George Mason/VCU?’”

The CAA Tournament left Richmond after the 2013 season; that year, there were only seven teams in the Tournament; four of the league’s remaining teams (VCU had already left to go to the Atlantic-10) were ineligible for various reasons. This meant there was no Pillow Fight Friday, and only three quarterfinal games on the Saturday. Since then, the CAA Tournament has been played in Baltimore and Charleston. I saw the CAA commissioner at the Final in 2013; I told him I really hoped Richmond would get the Tournament again one day, but now, years later, there are still no plans to ever bring it back here. Every year around this time, I think about how much fun I had at the Coliseum all those years, and what I would give to have it here even just once more. I feel sorry for any college basketball fan here who never got to experience the CAA Tournament.

Bible, Football, and the Eclipse

This past weekend, I was privileged to go down to Norfolk with brothers Dustin and Corey; Dev Ramcharan was down from Toronto to give a Bible Study Weekend on the life of Judah (from Genesis). I took more notes than I could even keep up with; I’ll try to share them at some point on here. The study was excellent; it’s amazing how Scripture is so full of people who we tend to just read about, but when we remember that these were real people, living in real time, and dealing with real issues, and having real experiences, it really brings God’s word to life.

Sunday night, Dustin, Daniel, Corey, and I got together at a sports bar in Sandbridge to watch the AFC Championship Game between my New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a thriller of a game; something I’m quite used to as a natural-born Patriots fan. The game actually ended up going to overtime, where Tom Brady, the Greatest Quarterback of All Time, worked his magic once again to deliver the Patriots’ 3rd straight Super Bowl appearance. I was the only one at the table who wanted the Patriots to win, and I got the last laugh at the end.
As for the game everyone was talking about (Rams vs. Saints), yes; the Saints got robbed. But I do find it a little ridiculous that some fans (and even one of the players) are calling for a “redo.” They don’t seem to realize how bad of a precedent that would set; it would basically allow for ANY game in the future to be declared null and void if there happens to be a bad call by a referee. Life goes on; you don’t just get a redo when something doesn’t go your way.

Right after the game, we went over to Sandbridge Beach to watch the lunar eclipse. It was freezing cold, and it was very windy; we didn’t stay out long, but stayed in the cars with the heat on while looking up once in a while. As totality neared, we got out of the cars and watched the last part of the Moon enter into the Earth’s shadow. Make no mistake: the lunar eclipse was amazing, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the thrill and excitement and wonder of a Total Solar Eclipse. 4/8/24 can’t come soon enough.

We got back to Richmond around 2:30 on Monday morning; well worth the late night, and I was pretty tired, but my heart was full. Thanks to Corey, Dustin, Daniel, Jordan, Ty, the Larsens, and a few others who made this weekend one of the best in a long time. For almost two full days, I was constantly surrounded by great people who love the Lord and who love each other.

Goodnight everyone!

Tigers vs. Tide, Part IV

Tomorrow night, Alabama and Clemson meet in the College Football Playoff for the 4th straight year. They’ve been ranked #1 and 2, respectively, this whole season; both finished undefeated in the regular season, won their conference championship game, and their semifinal Bowl game to get to this point. It’s clear that they’re the two best teams in the country, and the winner will be the undisputed National Champion; the only undefeated team left in the country.

Over the past couple of years, there has been more and more talk of expanding the Playoff field from 4 to 6 or 8 teams, usually by the teams who finish ranked #5 or 6 and are the first ones left out. There used to be no playoff at all; whichever team was ranked #1 at the end of the season was declared National Champions. Then a National Championship Game was added, using one of the four major Bowls and eventually a Championship game that was played at one of the Bowl sites, but it still deprived almost any team who lost even one game from a chance to win it all. The four-team Playoff is an improvement, but I still feel like a few more teams deserve a shot at it. Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, and even UCF, were all very good teams who, if given opportunity, could have made a run at #1.

What gets in the way is tradition, especially the Rose Bowl; that game has almost always been played between the Big Ten and Pac-12 Champions, but if the Playoff expands to 8 teams, the Rose Bowl may be required to just be the site of one of the games, without any tradition attached to it.

Here’s what I came up with as to how to have an “expanded” Playoff, without taking away from the Bowl games:

1)     Play the major Bowl games as normal, with traditional tie-ins, the week before Christmas:

-Rose Bowl: Big Ten Champ vs. Pac-12 Champ
-Sugar Bowl: SEC Champ vs. At-Large
-Orange Bowl: ACC Champ vs. At-Large
-Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 Champ vs. At-Large
-Cotton and Peach Bowls: At-Large vs. At-Large

At-Large teams must be ranked in Top 12, and at least one spot must still be given to the highest-ranked Group of 5 Champ.

2)     Upon completion of the Bowl games, re-rank all teams, as if Bowl games had been regular season games. The Top 4 teams in the final rankings make it to the Playoff, even if any of those teams lost their Bowl game. Guarantee the top four teams before the Bowl games that they are “in with a win,” that they cannot be jumped, and guarantee that the #1 ranked team is in regardless of win or loss in their Bowl. Add the incentive that the #1 seed in the Playoff gets to pick their opponent in the Semifinal, as well as which of the two Semifinal sites at which they want to play, which they now currently do.

3)     Play the Semifinals at a neutral site on New Year’s Day, then the National Championship Game on the second Monday in January, as usual.

Some may say this format would take away from the classic rivalries such as Ohio State vs. Michigan; because of the possibility that both could still make it to the Playoff, it could make the regular season matchup feel less meaningful. But so what if both teams get in? Sure, college basketball allows 16x more teams to make it to their Tournament; but usually both North Carolina and Duke, despite having one of the most intense rivalries in sports, make it into the field, and rightly so. If Michigan and Ohio State are two of the very best teams in College Football, they should both have a shot at playing for a National Championship. The winner of the regular season matchup between the two would still most likely benefit by possibly winning the division and playing for the Big Ten title and thus as a spot in the Rose Bowl, while the loser of the matchup would have the disadvantage of possibly being jumped in the rankings while sitting at home idle during Conference Championship Week. They would then have to sweat out Selection Sunday to see if they finish ranked high enough to have a decent chance to jump someone in the Top Four should they win their Bowl game. This would certainly not always be the case, but it is more possible than not for the foreseeable future, as Ohio State and Michigan continue to dominate the Big Ten.

This format ensures that the traditional Bowl games continue, and only adds one game to the season for the four playoff participants. For the teams that win but do not make it to the Playoff, they would still get to end their season the traditional way, by having won a major Bowl. For the teams ranked, say 8-12 or so with no real chance of jumping all the way into the Playoff with a Bowl win, they would not have made the Playoff under the current format anyway, but they could still possibly play “spoiler” to their opponent, who may be “on the bubble.” It would certainly add some drama to the Playoff race, while at the same time, leaving the College Football traditions untouched.

The Playoff format most likely won’t change until at least 2025; there’s still 6 years left on the current contract. But at least expansion is being talked about; it has never made much sense that a team could win their conference title but possibly not have the chance to win the whole thing. At the same time, I understand tradition; who doesn’t like watching the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day?

Maybe they’ll name the new trophy after me one day.

As for the National Championship Game, I don’t think it will be incredibly close, but certainly not a blowout either; Clemson is also undefeated, after all. ALABAMA 34 CLEMSON 24.

Williamsburg 2018

I’m home from Williamsburg. Normally this is a pretty sad day; I’ve just spent the past four days with so many wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord and now I’m home, but this year, even though I’m sad that it’s over, I’m even more glad that it happened; it was the best Conference I’d ever been to. It gets better every year. Maybe it’s just because every year, I appreciate it more. I’ve found that at an event like this, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

These are just a few of my notes from the Conference; I took a lot more than this, and will be glad to share, but I felt like a condensed version would be more appropriate for a blog post.

Morning Exhortations

The first and greatest commandment is to do something with all your being, without any selfishness (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Like Peter, Jesus invites you and me to walk through the darkest storms of life with him.

Are we more content to “stay in the boat,” even if it means Jesus is just a “ghost”?

God has a very interesting way of getting us to where we need to go (Jonah 2).

If we receive Christ, we receive God (Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 13:20).

Peter jumped out of the boat to get to Jesus with no hesitation; do we still have that, even though Jesus is not literally on the earth?

Jesus says that at the judgment, those who will be accepted will be for what they did for their brethren; “feed my sheep.”

Sin does not surprise us; it is personified as sneaky and devouring; we know where it comes from.

“It’s who I am” is not an excuse. You are not your sin; it does not matter how you were raised, where you came from, or what examples you had. Jesus says that if your eye offends you, gouge it out (Matthew 5:29).

Cast your burdens on Jesus; tell him you need help.

We don’t actually know who is the “disciple whom Jesus loved;” John, James, Lazarus? Jesus invites us to be “the one whom Jesus loves;” we are his friends if we keep his commandments (John 15:14).

Jesus will dwell with us despite our sinful ways.

Sincerity is impossible when you are holding back.

Acknowledging our sins is the first step (Psalm 32).

Life is a roller coaster, but Jesus is there in the thick of it. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The whole purpose of not going to heal Lazarus right away was so that Lazarus would be dead, that they might believe when they would see him raised. Jesus may “wait two extra days” for us, just to let the situation get messy enough so that he can work a miracle.

Have you ever said, “Jesus, if ONLY you were here, this would not have happened”? Could Jesus not have healed Lazarus from far away? Yes!

Does Jesus weep now (John 11:35)? He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).

Why did Lazarus come out of the grave? Because Jesus called him out of the grave! He is the Resurrection; he has the keys, and if he wants someone to come out of the grave, they’re coming out.

Jesus may bring more problems in your life, but he will never leave our side.

Time is so important because you only have so much of it.

We can receive direction from Jesus if we ask for it.

You have to put your faith in action for Jesus to work in your life. Jesus uses obstacles to lead us to a better place than where we may have intended.

“I can’t give enough;” but after we receive, we have to give.

To give means not reluctantly or not under compulsion.

Love is not based on duties and sacraments.

“God gave you life; don’t waste it.”

The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is taught even in elementary schools; on it hangs all the law and the prophets.

People can still right the wrongs they commit; God works in everyone’s life.

The poor widow left nothing; right as Jesus was warning about the rich, this happened right in front of him. She completely summed up the contrast between the sincere and the insincere. She did not delight in being poor, but did not go around asking people for help; she quietly put everything she had into the treasury box (Luke 20:45-21:4). We can give enough if we give ourselves; we might only have two pennies to toss in, but we can toss them in; quietly give ourselves to God and Jesus; we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:4-13).

Discussion Groups

God is always good, win, lose, or draw. Whatever happens, you are the Lord’s.

“God is never late, but he’s also never early.”

The most significant person to ever walk the earth cares tremendously for you.

Jesus has more authority than anyone on earth; he can change anything.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Writer’s Block

Writing is the greatest thing ever invented; it allows us to record everything we want to remember, to put our thoughts out there for others to read, and to put our imagination on paper.

I used to write a lot; now I don’t write anywhere near as much as I’d like to. It has nothing to do with being busy; I’ve just lost my touch, and no longer seem to be able to put together a compelling story that someone would read. Most of what I write about is based on true events, but sometime last year I considered participating in the National Novel Writing Month, where you write 1,000 words a day for 30 days. The ideas were there, but there was no way to put them together in such a way that would be entertaining.

Not only that, but for the past year, I’ve been trying to write my first “book,” a story about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse; the outline is there but the paragraphs are not.

There’s so much I’ve been meaning to write about and the words just haven’t come; I really hope to at some point just sit down and put aside any obstacles and get to it; Writer’s Block is a very real thing.

National Day of Mourning

Yesterday, many people around the country and around the world tuned into the funeral for former President George H. W. Bush; it was a National Day of Mourning.

I was born during Bush’s presidency, so obviously I don’t remember anything about him. Of course, I’ve heard various opinions about him over the years; no one thinks exactly alike. But he seemed like a good and decent man, a man who loved his wife and his children, a man who dedicated his whole life to serving, and I truly am sad that he’s gone.

I really enjoyed listening to the funeral service; it was a very Christian funeral, complete with scripture readings, prayers, and hymns.

What amazed me today though was how the great and vast majority of people (President Trump and Bill and Hillary Clinton being an unfortunate exception) put aside all differences and came together to celebrate a life well-lived. I really hope that it will bring about a positive change in everyone; how anyone could go forward from that ceremony with a feeling of animosity against anyone on the “other side” is beyond me.

Props to President Bush as well for living to be 94; he had the hardest job in the world. President Carter is still living as well, and the two Presidents who had died most recently, Reagan and Ford, both died in their 90s as well. Seeing how some of the more recent Presidents such as Obama and George W and Bill Clinton have aged since leaving the White House, it is a wonder how anyone with that much stress on them manages to live that long.

Therefore, and because this isn’t said enough: “Pray FOR your leaders, don’t prey ON them.”

WORLD CHAMPIONS

There’s a reason that my username on all my social media accounts is “rvadansox.” RVA=Richmond Virginia, then my name, and then [Red] Sox. Any of you who know me, know that I’m a fan of Boston sports. Half my family is from New England, so I was converted at a very early age. My Dad has told me about his experience watching the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and Mets; the Red Sox were one strike away from their first Championship in 68 years, and he was excited; he thought “I’m finally going to see them win it all…” and the rest is history; they blew the lead and lost the game on a ground ball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs. Dad said he went to bed that night and told Mom, “I can’t believe they lost.” Many fans forget that the Red Sox still had another chance to win it the next night in Game 7, but the Mets prevailed. I wasn’t around in 1986, as I was still a few years away from even being thought of. But I know that he and many other Red Sox fans have been through the mill with their team. Dad has also told me about the 1967 World Series when he was 12 years old, and the Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games, and then the 1975 World Series, where they lost to the Reds, also in seven.

When I was a few years old, I got on a plane with my parents, headed to Boston to visit my aunt; I was wearing a Red Sox shirt, and the flight attendant looked at me and said, “Don’t put ya faith in the Red Sawx, they’ll break ya haht.”

2003 was the first time I really experienced heartache with the Red Sox; they were five outs away from finally eliminating the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and going to their first World Series since 1986; they ended up losing that game in the 11th inning.

In August of 2004, I went to my first-ever Red Sox game at Fenway Park; they beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1, and I always remember what the crowd sounded like when the final out of that game was made; it was a loud, hopeful cheer; at that point in the season, the Red Sox were hot, and the buzz in Boston was that this could very well be THE year that they finally break through and win it all. That October, the Red Sox ended up as the American League wild card again; they advanced to the Championship Series again, and trailed the hated Yankees three games to none; no team had ever come back from that deficit to win a best-of-seven series; the Red Sox then won Game 4 on a home run by David Ortiz, won Game 5 on a walkoff single, held on to win Game 6, then beat the Yankees 10-3 in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, to win the American League pennant and advance to the World Series, where they broke the 86-year-old “curse,” beating the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game sweep. The final game of the World Series saw a total lunar eclipse; even the Moon turned red that night; a cosmic sign of favor to the Sox. Keith Foulke got Edgar Renteria to ground back to him, he underhanded to first, and just like that, 86 years of heartbreak were a thing of the past; the curse was broken and the Red Sox were World Champions. Since then, they’ve now won three more World Championships; a dynasty.

As much fun as it has also been seeing the Patriots winning their Super Bowls, and the Celtics winning the NBA Finals about ten years ago, and the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup a few years later, none of that compares to the Red Sox winning the World Series. They’re my favorite sports team in existence, and even if the Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics never win it all again, a Red Sox World Series triumph makes everything alright; that goes for me, and I think it goes for the city of Boston as well; this team is THE team in that town. I love this team; I loved the 2004 team that came back to beat the Yankees and then went on to beat the Cardinals to break the 86-year-old curse, I loved the 2007 team, and the 2013 team that won it for the city, and I loved this year’s team. What a gift of a season.