Mike Vaccaro: Bonas Fans, This is the Season You’ve Waited So Long For
This season the Bona Blog is thrilled to welcome a tremendous guest writer to the site: Mike Vaccaro (89) of the NY Post. Mike is one of the schools most well known graduates and has used his position at the Post and other media outlets to showcase his love and passion for St. Bonaventure University. Mike started his career working at the Olean Times Herald covering the Men’s Basketball Team back in 1989 and still lives and breathes Bonas hoops like so many of us do. This is the first of several posts that Mike will contribute to the site this season; we know you will enjoy every word. We thank him for taking time in his busy schedule to put pen to paper about the team we all love.
By Mike Vaccaro
It’s an ankle.
Of course it’s an ankle. It was always going to be an ankle, or a knee, or a hamstring, or an Achilles. It was always going to be a battered shoulder, or a bloodied nose. You are a fan, so you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. More: you are a Bonnies fan, so that shoe normally drops right on schedule, and the likelihood was that the ankle in question wouldn’t belong to the hard-nosed walk-on from Third Rob. Most: you are a Bonnies fan, in a season with more hope, more promise, more expectations, more anticipation since … well, 1978 is probably the right answer. But 1970 would apply, too. And … yes, yes, yes. Best not to talk about how that one ended.
The point, of course, is that it isn’t easy being on this side of the sporting equation, being a fan, short for fanatic, with so much invested in something that is utterly beyond our control in every facet, in every aspect. So of course those of us who were squinting at laptop screens, watching the Bonnies play Alfred in an exhibition game – and let’s be honest: what’s more fanatical than watching the Bonnies play Alfred in an exhibition game? – and saw Jay Adams crumple to the ground …
Well. Put it this way: somehow the pulse quickens even as the heart stops.
And isn’t that what this is all about anyway? It seems Adams will be fine. It seems he may even be ready to go when the Bonnies host Niagara Friday in the opening game of this season that most of us have been waiting years – decades, really – for.
Because this is the kind of season for which you become a fan in the first place, isn’t it? Every couple of days, it seems, some publication, some website, some member of the college basketball cognoscenti has been extolling the Bonnies, praising then, emptying the thesaurus to properly describe the kind of player Adams is, to aptly illustrate the power and potential of the Adams/Matt Mobley backcourt, to accurately portray the wizardry of Mark Schmidt. You want to see a grown man lose his mind? Ask Dick Vitale how he feels about this year’s Bonnies. It’s been a surreal ride already. You know the last time it was like this for the Bonnies?
No. Seriously. I’m asking. Because I have no idea.
I assume it was like this in the fall of 1977, when the Bonnies were coming off an NIT championship and were bound for the NCAA Tournament, but that was an entirely different time in the sport, a year before the advent of ESPN, two before the Big East, still a time when it made perfect sense that a university of 2,000 undergrads could compete toe-to-toe with anyone and everyone. Heck, it was only seven years since they’d been to the Final Four – long before that even was dignified and deified with capital letters.
No, this is different. This is a brave new world for those of us who have spent so much of our time as Bonnies fans rooting around for niblets and nuggets of respect across the years. There has been a lot of success the last 30 years, but almost all of it seemed to catch the world by surprise (and, let’s be honest, a lot of times we were every bit as amazed as the world was). The 2000 team needed to sweat out A-10 Tournament wins over Dayton and Xavier, and then really had to sweat out Selection Sunday; the forever game against Kentucky that followed in the NCAAs was almost anti-climactic (except for those of us who still occasionally awaken, deep in the night, and cry, “FOUL TAYSHAUN PRINCE!!!!!!!” … which means, what, just about ALL of us?). And the glory ride that carried the 2012 team through the Atlantic City Convention Center and to its first-ever Atlantic 10 Tournament championship was accompanied, from the start, and all the way to Nashville, by an overpowering wave of emotion.
We did it!
Can you believe we did it?
The funny thing about all of this is, one of the eternal charms of St. Bonaventure has also been one of the lingering thorns in its sandals: this notion of the university – and, by close association, the basketball team – is the quintessential Little Engine That Could. For decades – for a solid century, in fact – it was a fine association. After all: the Little Engine did. But in 2017, being an underdog isn’t an especially useful thing to be in the cut-throat world of higher education. And it’s even less helpful in the no-less-bloody realm of college basketball. There was widespread belief two years ago that one of the reasons the NCAA kept St. Bonaventure out of an NCAA Tournament in which it absolutely deserved to be a part of was simple: because it could. You won’t hear anyone in a suit ever say that in front of a microphone, but there is little doubt that it’s true.
And that’s what makes all these preseason accolades so satisfying, before the truly nervous work of watching the season begins Friday night. The Bonnies aren’t going to sneak up on anyone this year. It’s hard to sneak up on anyone when you’re picked No. 2 in your league – highest preseason rank ever – when you have a player as decorated as Adams, when outsiders look at your roster, nod, and say with admiration: that’s one hell of a team.
The boys at the Blog have invited me to weigh in here from time to time this year, and it’s a privilege to do so. I’ve been remarkably blessed in my professional life, having spent the past 20 years working in my hometown of New York City, the last 15 at the New York Post. There aren’t enough words in the lexicon for me to describe what a thrill ride that has been for me. But it does come with a flip side: I cover all the teams I grew up rooting for. I root for good stories, for fast games, for whatever sells the most newspapers every morning. I only have one true rooting interest left.
And this is it.
Starting Friday, I’ll be sweating and bleeding and living and dying with every possession, same as always. The pulse quickens even as the heart stops. Most years, this is the hopeful phase of the whole thing, the whole romantic notion of everyone starting out 0-0, and anything can happen, and a few bounces here, a few there …
It’s different this time. Let’s get this thing started already. Let’s start the fun. Let’s see where this is all going to lead.
We are still the home office for Good Journeys after all, are we not?