Vaccaro: Bonas’ Current Winning Streak Is Most Impressive Of Them All
By Mike Vaccaro
“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called ‘two in a row.’ And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a ‘winning streak’ … It HAS happened before!”
— Manager Lou Brown, “Major League”
Man, nothing beats a winning streak, am I right?
It’s one thing to follow a team that’s playing well, that’s having a good season, that may be good enough to do some special things. It’s one thing to revel in the moment, in the here-and-now, in the unique wonders of each specific game, break them down, enjoy them, argue about them, celebrate them.
But when you string a few together?
When two in a row becomes five?
When five in a row becomes seven?
When – holy cow – you start reaching nice, round numbers like 10?
Yes, that’s when you really have the perfect marriage of sports and sports fan – short, always remember, for “fanatic” – when superstition suddenly doesn’t seem so spurious, when it makes perfect sense to seek out the same television, the same chair, the same position you were sitting in on that chair, wearing the same hat, game after game, figuring if it worked before it’ll work again, not wanting to break the chain, fearful that if it gets out that you couldn’t do your regular routine you will be blamed to the end of time for poking a stick in the eyes of the ever-watchful sporting gods who regulate such matters.
(And yes: I fully understand and appreciate that there are many of you who are already quite unhappy with me for bringing this up now, as the Bonnies’ magnificent streak sits at 10 straight, who will undoubtedly blame me for casting a jinx, a pox, a hex, upon the team should they lose Tuesday at home to Davidson, or next week to St. Louis, or any earlier than necessary in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Hell, I’M a little ticked at ME for writing this, knowing the rules are the rules, especially after seeing Pezzimenti’s sentence in purgatory to which he was expelled a few months ago for suggesting we were seeing the Golden Age of Bona Hoops at the very moment the season seemed to be tipping toward the dumpster. As I said, the gods, they are watching. They are listening. And they are vengeful SOBs.)
The Bonnies have won 10 games in a row, and of course by now we all know the last time that happened: twice in the fabled 1969-70 season, a 12-game streak and a 13-game streak that bookended the regular season’s only loss at Villanova. In truth, that first streak was a 16-game winning streak if you include the final four games of the 19688-69 season. And it was a group that knew how to put together a winning streak; a year before that, Bob Lanier and Billy Kalbaugh won their first 23 games as varsity players before running into North Carolina in the NCAA regionals; tacked together with the wins over Niagara and Canisius that their upper-class teammates had recorded to end the 1967 season, that makes a school-record 25 in a row. Some heady company right there.
We all know about the most famous winning streak in the program’s history, which was the 99 games in succession that the Bonnies won at the old Olean Armory between 1949 and ’61; it was in those years under Eddie Melvin and Eddie Donovan in which more modest winning streaks became something of a norm: 11 straight to open up the 1949-50 season, then 10 in a row to start 1950-51. The 16 straight with which the 1951-52 team opened, leading to the first-ever Armageddon game in the program’s history, the fourth-ranked Bonnies falling 68-63 on Feb. 11, 1952, to fifth-ranked Duquesne, a game that wasn’t only SRO inside Duquesne Gardens but featured close to 5,000 fans who loitered around the arena just to gauge the game’s ebbs and flows from the crowd noise. Donovan’s first great team in 1957-58 won 15 straight; two years later they won 19 straight. And on Feb. 25, 1961 – 57 years to the day as I type this, for trivia buffs – the winning streak was 11 and the Armory streak was 99 when Niagara walked into the Armory and stopped both with an 87-77 victory that still sticks in the craw of Bona fans of a certain age as profoundly as any other disappointing loss since.
You could argue, of course, that St. Bonaventure did itself no favors by inviting to the party that night a man named Ray Cave, who worked for Sport Illustrated and would, in the magazine’s issue of March 6, 1961, describe the craziness that was a Bona game night at the Armory better than anyone ever had, or has:
“… a deafening clamor from the breathing-room-only crowd of 2,200 students, their faculty of Franciscan friars and the local townspeople … Niagara paid no attention to the partisan tumult and shouting, was unaffected by the crowd that sits exactly two inches from the playing area on one side of the court, and ignored the balcony which projects to the edge of the other side of the playing area …”
But Cave also gave voice to something else, too, which all these years later helps explain why, if you think this current 10-game winning streak surpasses each of the nine streaks of similar or longer duration that preceded it, you are dead right: “In the 13 years since it last lost a home game (that one was to Niagara, too),” he wrote, “the Bonnies had played many games against the likes of Villa Madonna, Belmont Abbey and Western Ontario at Olean. It would have won these if the game had been played in a bowl of custard.”
Ah, yes. The schedule.
It has always a sore spot when you’ve tried to argue with the old-timers about that. During its life as an independent, the Bonnies would routinely take part in regular-season doubleheaders at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, and occasionally at New York’s Madison Square Garden, against major-college programs (think Utah State  and Western Kentucky ), and they were also regular participants in the old Holiday Festival at the Garden, and that’s where they would always play the three or four games per year against schools with any kind of basketball pedigree. Just look at the rest of the schedules, pre-RC; Cave didn’t even mention all the times the Bonnies laid a hurting on Assumption and Mansfield and Waynesburg and Brockport – or that they almost never ventured to play a real road game anywhere. And even once the Reilly Center was built, an awful lot of those schedules were filled with fluff. Look, we will never, EVER take an ounce of credit away from the ’70 team; Bonnies fans should spend 15 seconds of every day thanking them for that Final Four banner that hangs in the RC. But that team played Detroit College (not to be confused with Detroit U, which it also played), Baldwin-Wallace, Belmont-Abbey and Loyola of Baltimore, which was Division II at the time.
(It’s why one of the other streaks that used to be so treasured is so bogus. From 1956-57 through 1984-85, a stretch of 29 seasons, the Bonnies didn’t have one losing record. When that streak was snapped, the Bonadieu yearbook headlined its section on the men’s basketball team ominously: THE YEAR THE STREAK WAS STOPPED. The next year, as a freshman reporter for The Bona Venture, I was assigned to ask Jim O’Brien about starting a “new” streak. It was the first honest answer I ever received from a coach on the record: “Jesus, not another bleeping question about that bleeping streak! How many bleeping games did they play against Belmont Bleeping Abbey through the bleeping years to keep that bleeping streak alive?!”)
(And, yes, Belmont Abbey DOES get thrown around a lot as an example of just what level of competition the old-time Bonnies regularly feasted on. Villa Madonna is another one.)
So yes: consider this a fairly passionate argument that the winning streak the Bonnies have presently assembled – no matter how long it lasts (and remember: DON’T BLAME ME if it only lasts another 48 hours [are you listening, sporting gods?]) is the greatest winning streak in the program’s history. And it’s not particularly close. Four of those 10 games have come on the road (I do hate to keep stomping on Secretariat, but the ’70 team only played six true road games the entire season). One of them was against Rhode Island, which was enjoying its own 16-game winning streak at the time and was the 16th-ranked team in the country. And all of them – every single one – came with the team’s toes perched perilously on the abyss. Every game has been an elimination game.
Mark Schmidt has said that he tells the players to treat every game like its Game 7 and instead of being consumed by the moment they have embraced it. And it’s really, truly been a streak authored by the entire roster. Two different players (Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley) have won A-10 Player of Week in the stretch. Two different players have enjoyed their finest nights as collegians in posting double-doubles (Amani Ikpeze’s 12 and 10 against Duquesne, Courtney Stockard’s seminal 21-and-14 takedown of VCU). LaDarien Griffin became a folk hero with five unforgettable minutes to close out Rhodey; if this Streak warrants a signature moment, it’s either his one-shoed blocked shot or the moment later on when he fell hard to the floor, laid there like he’d been shot, and then instantly sprinted to the other side of the court as the RC went completely bananas.
Each game essential. Each against Atlantic 10 competition. You can say all you want about the A-10 being down this year but that’s impressive.
So get your favorite chair ready. Get that ratty lucky hat ready. The gods will be watching Tuesday night, when the Bonnies hope to make it 11 in a row against Davidson; no need to randomly tick them off. Do as you do.
Besides, if I haven’t infuriate by now, as we fly past 1,700 words on the subject, maybe we’re actually safe.