In high school I sat in the basement and watched Minnesota Twins games on TV and wrote earnest stories about them on my mom's Royal typewriter. You had to strike the keys violently—as if trying, on a carnival midway, to ring a bell with a sledgehammer. The keys went bang! and the carriage-return bell went ping! and I dreamed, absurdly, of writing for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Bo Ryan became a basketball assistant at Wisconsin in 1976. He left Madison eight years later to be head coach at Wisconsin- Platteville, and 15 years after that he took over at Wisconsin- Milwaukee. Last week Ryan—now a 53-year-old father of five—returned to Madison as coach of the flagship Badgers. He said of the job, "It's a dream."
Jay Wright was raised near Philadelphia on Villanova basketball games. His hero was a Villanova coach, he married a Villanova cheerleader, and he became a Villanova assistant before alighting at Hofstra, which he left on March 27 to become the new head coach at ... Villanova. "If you're a Villanova fan and Rollie Massimino is your idol, what's better?" Wright said, invoking the name of the coach who led the Wildcats to the national championship in 1985. "You dream about walking on the sidelines."
Wright's top assistant for seven years at Hofstra was Tom Pecora, who grew up 20 minutes from the Hempstead, N.Y., campus, once washed dishes in the Hofstra alumni club and returned to that club last week when he was promoted to head coach of the Pride. "This," he said, "is my dream job."
These dreams may not sound like much to you, and I sometimes feel like Lily Tomlin, who said, "I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific." More often, though, I recognize that herein lies the central beauty of sports: Lifelong dreams are fulfilled every day. Few fantasize about careers in waste management or systems analysis or double-entry bookkeeping, fulfilling as those jobs may turn out to be. But in sports, last week alone, women's Final Four participant Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State said, "I'm living a dream," and men's Final Four participant Nate James of Duke said, "I'm living a dream," and quarterback Drew Henson said, after leaving Michigan to sign with the New York Yankees, that wearing pinstripes was his life's dream.
This week someone will realize his once-ridiculous ambition of getting green-blazered at Augusta while someone else will fulfill his absurd childhood fantasy by stepping to the plate in a major league game. We spend so much time cautioning kids not to dream of playing big league ball—"There are only 700 jobs"—that we often forget a salient point: There are 700 jobs, and they have to be filled by real people, most of whom are thankful that nobody crushed out their dreams like a spent Camel. Hope, a philosopher said, is the dream of the waking.
"Try some more," said another great thinker, Willie Wonka, while urging the brats who toured his chocolate factory to sample the lickable wallpaper. "The strawberries taste like strawberries! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!"
"Snozzberries?!" replied Veruca Salt. "Whoever heard of a snozzberry?"
To which Wonka said only, "We are the music-makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams."
He was alluding to a 19th-century poet named Arthur O'Shaughnessy, who wrote: