Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/27/2006 03:52:00 PM
My Sportsmen: George Mason Patriots
Folarin Campbell helped drive George Mason into the Final Four, the first mid-major school to do so since 1979.
By Seth Davis
Before taking the court against defending champion North Carolina in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the George Mason Patriots dressed in their locker room while the song Kryptonite by the rap group Purple Ribbon All-Stars blared over a loudspeaker.
"If these guys are Supermen," Patriots coach Jim Larranaga told his players, referring to the Tar Heels, "we're gonna be their kryptonite."
The Patriots beat those Supermen to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Two games later, after they beat pre-tournament favorite Connecticut in overtime to reach the Final Four, the Patriots danced to Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Upon returning to their campus in northern Virginia later that night, Larranaga and his players and the reigning Miss Virginia did a group dance to Y.M.C.A. Suffice to say, on that day, we were all Patriots, not to mention Village People.
The fact that George Mason lost to eventual champion Florida at the Final Four is a minor footnote to the most unlikely Cinderella in the history of college sports. This is a school that had never won a single NCAA tournament game, yet vanquished three schools with a combined four NCAA titles (Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut) en route to Indianapolis, dancing and smiling and singing all the way. They didn't win a championship, but there is an even more appropriate final destination for this team: SI's Sportsmen of the Year.
It is fitting that only three other teams has been honored by SI in this fashion: the 2004 Red Sox (and its fans), the 1999 U.S. women's soccer team, and of course, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. That was another merry band of young brothers who slew giants and captured a nation's imagination. But that team's gold medal proved to be an aberration. George Mason's mad dash to the Final Four, on the other hand, was the natural culmination of a decade-long rise of the mid-majors in the NCAA tournament, a trend that has given bottomless charm to the nation's favorite sporting event.
The Patriots were one of four mid-majors to reach the Sweet Sixteen this year (Wichita State, Bradley and Gonzaga were the others) and the first to reach the Final Four since Indiana State and Penn in 1979. That the achievement came after many in the college hoops cognoscenti derided the inclusion of so many middies made it all the more sweet for players and fans alike.
A few days before George Mason played its first-round game, Larranga told his players they should "visualize" what it would be like to win a game in the tournament -- whereupon two of his guys dumped a cooler of water over his head. "We're visualizing the celebration," they told him. Larranaga laughed.
Fortunately for us, the Patriots did their celebrating the next two weeks. They left us laughing, dancing and believing that the impossible was possible. That's what great sportsmen do.
No question, George Mason's run to the Final Four was the most uplifting sports story since Lance Armstrong retired. So don't sell the accomplishment short -- Carolina, UConn, and Michigan State have a combined EIGHT NCAA tournament titles.
The George Mason team might be deserving of a nomination for sportsmen of the year, but do not compare this team to the 80 Olympic hockey team. Are you kidding me? Comparing a college basketball team to the 1980 Olympic hockey team? What an absolute insult to all sports fans. This team didn't even win the tourney - they just pulled off a couple of upsets, which seems to happen EVERY year. What happened in 1980 will NEVER happen again. What George Mason did will probably happen again next year. And the year after. And the year after that. Last time I checked, North Carolina, UConn, and Michigan State didn't beat George Mason by 40 points on the eve of the tourney the way the USSR took care of team USA right before the Olympics, making the gold medal run even more impressive. And, by the way, the USA actually won the tournament.
George Mason's Tony Skinn was suspended for one game during the CAA tournament for punching an opposing player in his groin. I hardly consider this to be the actions befitting the "sportsmem" of the year.
The caption for the picture states that G.M. was the first mid major to make the final 4 since 1979. Does that make the University of Utah a major team(it seems everyone considers them mid major as do I). Because, you should recall that they played in not only the final four, but championship game in 1998