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This is Why I am Cheering for NKU on Friday

Kyle Macy

Like many other eventual NKU students and alumni, I grew up idolizing Kyle Macy and cheering for the Wildcats.

This has been a weird week for a lot of NKU fans since they found out their Beloved Northern Kentucky UniversityTM would face the Univeristy of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. There have been TONS of questions. One of the biggest has been “What’s a Norse?” (It’s a  non-gender specific generic term for Nordic peoples like Vikings that replaced the original Norsemen nickname.) The next biggest question has been “Who are you going to cheer for?”

The question has led to a declaration that NKU students wearing UK gear wouldn’t be included in the student lottery (I don’t love saying that out loud, but I do think it’s a jerk move to take that opportunity away from a student who would cheer for a team that’s distributing the tickets), and a meme that I originally chuckled at until I realized that I was one of the people that it was making fun of (I have bought a UK shirt at Walmart).

It’s a question that is expected to confound NKU fans, and with good reason. The Northerner — NKU’s student newspaper — interviewed me (among others) for a story about the conflict many NKU fans feel with the Norse matched up against a team many of us have rooted for forever. I have no such conflict, and I’ll tell you why, but first some history.

Like so many other NKU students and alumni, I am a lifelong University of Kentucky fan. I don’t remember a time I didn’t want the Wildcats to win basketball games (football is a different story. It’s not that I didn’t want them to win, but I didn’t know they existed — TV was different when I was a kid. Currently, I want both of them to win equally.). Kyle Macy, who I later had a chance to work with while hosting Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk, was (and is) one of my all-time favorite athletes (and an even better person). Until NKU played in a pre-season exhibition game at UK in 2004, the thought never occurred to me that I would have to choose one over the other. Until 1985, I never thought I’d care about NKU at all.

When I was looking at colleges prior to graduating from Covington Latin School in 1985, I never considered NKU. I had no intention of going there. Nobody did really. In many ways it was a college of last resort or of apathy. Even Northern Kentuckians who knew all along they would go to college there weren’t excited about that. It was referred to as “no knowledge college,” “the concrete campus” and “advanced high school.” There was a lake in the middle of campus that was the perfect metaphor for NKU. It was just sort of there. It was completely uninteresting. Nobody went near it. Everybody called it Lake Inferior.

Honestly, I didn’t even “look at” colleges. I went to Miami (Ohio) with a friend (nice place), and I took a road trip to a place called Kansas Newman College in Wichita, because they said that I could play soccer there (less nice, but it provides a nice quirk in a few paragraphs). I only applied to two schools — UK and NKU, and I only applied to the latter because I was forced to. There was only one place I wanted to go and it was in Lexington and bathed in blue.

I mentioned Covington Latin School. It plays an important part of the story. It is an advanced college preparatory school. What does that mean? It means you can start high school there as soon as after finishing sixth grade. I waited until I finished seventh grade. The end result is that you are REALLY young when you go to college (although there are many, many benefits to going there). My parents were concerned that I would go to Kentucky, be too immature, be overwhelmed and struggle. They encouraged (insisted) that I go to NKU for a year and then if I did well enough I could transfer. So that’s what I did.

My Date, March 28, 1992.

Among the many goof things that happened to me at NKU, I met my now wife, Michelle.

I enrolled at NKU in the fall of 1985. I was just barely 17 years old. Knowing I would need to find something — anything — to help me fit in, I went through fraternity rush. I joined Alpha Tau Omega for two reasons — I liked the guys in the chapter and I knew they had a chapter at UK, so I knew I could just move to that one. And then I set about my one year in collegiate purgatory before I could go to the promised land. I attended MAYBE one basketball game. But a funny thing happened.

I made great friends. I learned to love the campus. I got involved in a couple of other organizations. By the time that year in purgatory had ended, I had no intention of leaving. That single decision determined the course of the rest of my life.

I met almost all of the people I still call my best friends. Sure there are some exceptions — people from my old neighborhood or a couple of guys from high school, but the vast majority of them are from NKU.

In my last two years I met a guy named J.D. Campbell who would become the second most influential man in my life after my dad. In a weird coincidence, he was a graduate of Kansas Newman College (see?), where he played baseball. He had been there when I went on my soccer visit. J.D. was the sports information director at NKU. I had gone to NKU hoping to become a sportscaster. My second to last year (my college timeline is complicated), I called NKU’s women’s games for a student television production on local cable. After that season I was asked to come to the sports information office. They had liked my work and wanted me to be part of the radio broadcast team the next year and to work in the sports information office. I loved the idea. I took the job to be on radio. I enjoyed that, but I fell in love with being in the sports information office. I changed my mind about what I wanted to do for a career.

When I graduated from Northern, J.D. helped me get my first job — as a graduate assistant in an athletics department working for Tad Druart, who was one of his Kansas Newman baseball teammates and best friend. He also helped me get my second job…and eventually my third, which was running my own sports information office at Lewis University. I have no idea where I would have ended up or what I would be doing without having met J.D.

Another person I met at NKU was my wife, Michelle. We didn’t start dating until after I had graduated, was living in Texas and had come home for Christmas. When we did start dating, we had been brought together by a group of mutual friends — all of whom we knew through NKU. We have two wonderful sons. I can’t imagine a life without any of the three of them.

Norse Up

Norse Up!

I think there’s a concern among NKU students and alumni that if you cheer for the Norse on Friday, that you can’t still be a true UK fan. I hope that’s not the case. If UK wins that game (and I honestly think they will), then I will of course cheer for the Wildcats for the rest of the tournament. But when the two teams meet on Friday, one will be a team that I’ve cheered for for a long time. The other will be a place that helped form me, that helped me develop into adulthood and that helped provide in some way or another every good thing that I have in my life to this day. For as much as I love Kentucky athletics, the University of Kentucky did none of that for me.

I understand NKU students and alumni who didn’t form any kind of emotional bond with the school still cheering for UK, and that’s fine. But I did. How do you cheer against that?

And that lake? It’s now called Loch Norse. It is beautifully landscaped and is one of the proud centerpieces of a no longer so concrete campus. And it is the perfect symbol of a proud university that has found itself very much in the same way that it has helped so many students do along the way.

#NorseUp

Don’t Cry for NKU, Their Draw is Perfect

NKU-UK

The Norse played at Rupp Arena in 2013. You can see the score.

Not long after My Beloved Northern Kentucky University (it’s capitalized, because I am trying to get “My Beloved” into the official name, like THE Ohio State University) was matched against the Kentucky Wildcats on Selection Sunday (a day that still scars me, by the way), the messages started coming in to my phone. They came in two strains. The first: “How do you feel about what they did to NKU?” The second: “I am so sorry about NKU.” Regardless of the text, they had the same sense of reverence – the kind of reverence you would show if the school had closed. And while it’s sweet that my friends were worried about how I would take the matchup, most were fundamentally wrong about the nature of the pairing.

It was the best possible outcome for the Norse.

No, seriously, I mean that.

First, if NKU wins, it will be the coolest thing to happen in the history of the University. It would also be cool if they beat Duke, Arizona or Louisville, of course, but beating Kentucky would be bigger than any of them.

Next, let’s be honest about something. In the history of the 64+ team field, there have been EIGHT games where a 15 seed (NKU) has beaten a 2 seed (UK). That’s eight wins in 132(!) games. It’s a winning percentage of .061. And those eight wins took on three distinct shapes:
1) Team with quirky style beats team that can’t quite figure them out — Lehigh over Duke and Richmond over Syracuse.
2) REALLY athletic team beats team that can’t match them athletically — this especially applies to Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown.
3) Team with future NBA Hall of Famer who has an off night somehow beats higher seed anyway — Santa Clara over Arizona. (Nash went 1 for 7 in that game and only had 4 assists. How the hell did they win?)

The Norse don’t seem to fit any of those categories. Have stranger things happened? Sure. Do they happen often? They do not.  So how can NKU get the most mileage out of a game that they have a 6% chance of winning historically?

The best argument I see against the game benefiting NKU is “but if they were playing anybody besides Kentucky, the whole state would cheer for them.” While that’s probably true, it forgets a couple of important things. One is that if they weren’t paired against Kentucky (or Louisville, I guess) they wouldn’t be playing in Indianapolis where their fans can easily go to the Norse’s first ever NCAA Division 1 Tournament game. They’d be in Greenville, S.C., (manageable) or Salt Lake City (less so). And all those fans they’d have (on TV)? If the game gets outside 10 points, those fans are tuning out. There are three other games on in that same time slot. Two of those games — Miami (Fla.) vs. Michigan St. and Marquette vs. South Carolina could be close.

Playing Kentucky in the first round (I will never call it the second round) guarantees the most possible eyes will be watching the Norse for the longest possible time. Kentucky fans won’t tune out if Kentucky gets up big and they DEFINITELY won’t tune out if it’s close. So tens of thousands of Kentucky fans will watch NKU for two plus hours. They probably didn’t even do that when UK played the Norse in 2013. Many of them may not even know that UK played NKU in 2013. Even playing Louisville wouldn’t bring the kind of audience that playing Kentucky will.

I hate Miles Simon’s stupid, smiling 1997 face.

The second best argument for worrying about NKU facing UK is “what if the Norse win? All those UK fans will HATE them!” First, remember, eight — eight — of 132 15 seeds have beaten 2 seeds. Second, this is where the experience gained in my eight years of hosting Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9-Noon Sundays on NewsRadio 630 WLAP in Lexington) comes in handy. Kentucky has lost 687 games in the program’s history. Since they’ve lost to some of those teams more than once, let’s say they have lost to 500 different teams (primarily because it makes the math easier). Of those 500 teams, Kentucky fans have stayed mad at exactly two — Tennessee and, of course, Duke ( Full disclosure: I hate three. I still hate Arizona, but that’s just because of Miles Simon’s stupid smiling face). That’s 2 out of 500 or .4%. That means that unless NKU throws a 3/4 court pass to a guy who should have been ejected who then hits a turnaround jumper to beat UK in overtime, UK fans are FAR more likely to be angry at Kentucky than they are at NKU. In fact, NKU is statistically 15 times more likely to beat Kentucky than Kentucky fans are likely to be mad at them for it (give or take, I was a Radio/TV/Film major).

So, to sum up, there is LITERALLY no downside to NKU playing Kentucky in their first NCAA Tournament trip, barring the unlikely complete re-creation of the shot by he who shall not be named. And there are tens of thousands of eyes of upside. Whatever the final score of the game, Friday will be a huge win for My Beloved Northern Kentucky University®.

UPDATED: Even MORE Five(ish) Things You REALLY Need to Know About NKU

With my beloved Northern Kentucky University looming as the first opponent for the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville Courier-Journal UK beat writer Fletcher Page  produced a list titled Northern Kentucky: Five Things to Know About UK Foe. And they were all very important things (except for the part about the viking mascot scaring children. That was just mean). But none of them speak to the essence of NKU. So if you are planning to jump on the Norse bandwagon or if you just want to know everything possible about the Norse before the game, here are the five (or maybe more) things you REALLY need to know about NKU to impress your friends.

The Campus Bar of Record at NKU is Called Skyline

Skyline Tavern

Billie’s Skyline Tavern

If you know anything about the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati region, you can only imagine how confusing this is for new students, as Skyline is also the name of the dominant (and delicious – and I WILL fight you about this) Cincinnati chili franchise. Technically the bar’s full name is Billie’s Skyline Tavern. It sits atop a little hill literally steps from campus, like five steps. Maybe four if you take moon steps. For YEARS it was the only place that served beer that you could get to easily. Then Martha Layne Collins Boulevard came through, brought us a Buffalo Wild Wings and life was never the same (the old timers ALWAYS went to Skyline though).

The place was the very definition of a dive (and I mean that as an extreme compliment). It was tiny, it was old, it wasn’t flashy and for the longest time there was a GIANT pair of women’s underwear over the fireplace for no apparent reason. We all loved the place. They served an incredible hamburger and had waffle fries before Chick-fil-A made them a thing.

Part of me wants to go to the game Friday. Part of me really wants to watch it at Skyline.

It was the first place I ever illegally drank a beer in public and I had more great times there than I can possibly remember (both because there were so many and because, well, you know.

George Clooney Went to School There

George ClooneyDid he graduate? No he did not. Do we care? Not even a little bit.

An Augusta native, Clooney was a Norse from 1979 to 1981. In fact, at one point he sold shoes at the McAlpins (now Dillards) in the Crestview Hills Mall with my aunt Rosie. I was THIS close to being his nephew (maybe – you don’t know).

In the NKU alumni magazine a couple of years ago one of his buddies told a story about how Clooney wasn’t going to be able to go on spring break with them because he had a test when they were going to leave. He blew off the test, surprised them by showing up at departure time and made that tip. What does that mean? That I have AT LEAST  four things in common with George Clooney: We were both less than fantastic students at NKU (though I graduated), we both married hot wives, we both spent time in the University Center game room (see photo) and we both played for terrible high school basketball teams. Things worked out ok for him, so I still have hope.

Two other Hollywood actors passed through NKU as well — Jennie Robertson who played Millie in the greatest movie ever made and lived on the same dorm floor with some of my friends; and Galadriel Stineman, who played Axl’s girlfriend Cassidy in The Middle and is my wife’s sorority sister (WHAT UP, DELTA ZETA!?!?!).

There is an Elaborate Series of Tunnels Under Campus

Campus

Concrete

No, seriously. The legend is that the original campus was built in the aftermath of Kent State and with security in mind, which also explains the construction materials — NKU was rightfully called “the concrete campus” (among other derisive nicknames) for decades, and may still be (although only the original buildings look like that and the campus is currently gorgeous). The tunnels were to be used to get administration and staff out if there were unrest.

I have no idea if any of that is true, except the being called the concrete campus part. What I know about the tunnels is that if you go to school there long enough, know enough people and happen to tear up your knee in a Greek league basketball game, somebody will give you access to them so you don’t have to crutch across campus (which is legendarily cold and wind-swept) in the middle of winter.

Todd Svoboda Played There

Todd SvobodaActually, most UK fans know that before he became the fan favorite walk-on at the end of the bench in the Wildcats’ run to the 1993 Final Four, Svoboda played for the Norse. It was the “Willie Cauley-Stein was a wide receiver” of its time. What most UK fan’s DON’T know, however is that Svoboda was a stud for the then Norsemen.

Svoboda was an athletically gifted big man. He was SO athletically gifted that he also played tennis at NKU (and after graduating from UK was at times Kyle Macy’s doubles partner – imagine a 6-8 guy at the net, good luck). He was also recruited to play water polo (watch it sometime) out of high school. In three seasons at NKU, Svoboda scored 1,114 points (currently 20th all-time), pulled 770 rebounds (4th, his 9.1 average is 2nd), shot 52.6 percent from the floor (12th). He was so good that when Gimel Matinez was briefly injured that season I thought Svoboda had a chance to play some meaningful minutes. He was universally beloved at NKU.

His quirky college career was due to the engineering program he was enrolled in. The program included three years at Northern and two at UK. Ken Shields recruited him to NKU hoping he’d play four years, but when the time came to go, Todd left with his blessing.

Svoboda’s UK claims to fame will always be outscoring Allan Houston in the Cats’ SEC Tournament matchup with Tennessee that season and hitting a three-pointer in the Regional Final against Florida State.

Ken Shields

He is the grandfather of NKU’s basketball success. Ken Shields became NKU’s head basketball coach in 1988 when Mike Beitzel resigned to become the head coach at Hanover College, a Division III school that I think is in Indiana somewhere. You read that right. The coach at a decent sized state school that played in the best Division 2 conference in the country left to become a Division III head coach. That was NKU in 1988. They played in the very small Regents Hall and the athletics department was NOT flush with resources.

Shields was a legend in Northern Kentucky when he took over at Northern, having coached at St. Thomas and Highlands High Schools in Ft. Thomas, just down the road from NKU. Shields’ name and his many friends and supporters immediately meant more fans in Regent’s Hall, but things didn’t immediately go well on the court. Shields finished his first season at 17-11, but five losing seasons followed and there were rumblings of his firing. The next year (1995), all he did was go 25-4, lead NKU to its first Sweet 16 appearance and earn Division 2 coach of the year honors. He also set the groundwork for things to come (more coming). He won 20 or more games in seven of his final 10 seasons before retiring after the 2004 season. He was inducted into the NKU Hall of Fame in 2007.

He is one of the most likable coaches you will ever meet in your entire life.

Shields was succeeded by longtime assistant Dave Bezold who led NKU into the Division 1 era, which included a game at Rupp arena (in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote THIS when Bezold was let go. I still feel like NKU did Bez wrong, but I can still love the University and want them to succeed). And now John Brannen has taken NKU to their first Division 1 Tournament appearance.

Shields and Bezold were also great to drink beers with after games at Skyline (see above).

 NKU Played for Two National Titles

Andy Listerman

To this day, none of us can believe the shots didn’t go in in 1997.

I know I said five and this is six. Sue me.

Shields followed that 1995 season with back-to-back trips to the Division 2 National Championship game, both in Louisville, Ky., (they played at the Convention Center in a really odd setup).

In 1996, NKU lost to Fort Hayes State, which is somewhere in Kansas, I think.

In 1997, the Norse played then-Division 2 powerhouse Cal State-Bakersfield and future NBA player Kebu Stewart dead even for all 40 minutes. It was so dead even that with time winding down, NKU’s Shannon Minor (now the head basketball coach at North College Hill High School in Cincinnati) launched a three-pointer from the left wing that would likely win the game. Minor was an incredible three-point shooter and my seat was directly behind his line to the basket. From the second the ball left his hand it looked dead center. It looked SO good that me (in my Norse horns of course) and my buddies were IN THE AISLE to rush the floor when…it didn’t go in. To this day I can’t believe it wasn’t good. I have talked to Minor about it since, and neither can he. The Norse had one more chance to win when Stewart missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Andy Listerman’s last-second shot didn’t fall either. So I was just standing in the aisle like a dope wearing Norse horns.

(The NKU women’s team did win a pair of Division 2 National Championships under head coach Nancy Winstel, which leads me to…)

Current NKU Star Drew McDonald is the son of a Norse

Drew McDonald

Drew McDonald

What are we at, seven? Damn.

McDonald’s mom was an NKU star in her own right. From 1987-91 then Christie Freppon was a fierce competitor in the post for some great NKU women’s teams. She’s still 11th on the all-time NKU scoring list with 1,339 points and fifth with 850 rebounds. She also blocked 68 shots. I can’t believe she isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Somebody get on this.

She currently coaches girls’ basketball at St. Joseph’s in Cold Spring, not far from NKU.

NKU Once Had a Player Make Every Free Throw in a Season

Paul Cluxton

Paul Cluxton

Last one, I promise

No, it’s true. Well, it’s true that this is the last one, AND it’s true that in 1997 Paul Cluxton made every free throw he attempted, going 94-for-94 from the line. He only shot 94 because he was a three-point shooter (on a team FILLED with them) and just didn’t get fouled that often. Had he been more of a slasher, the last play in that 1997 title game might have been him going to the basket trying to get fouled. Alas, it was not.

In his career, Cluxton scored almost 1,500 points. He was inducted into the NKU Hall of Fame in 2005.

UPDATE!

OK, so I thought of two more important(ish) things.

Jack Givens has had a Role in  NKU’s Success

Jack Givens

Jack Givens

Yes, THAT Jack Givens. The hero of Kentucky’s 1978 National Championship victory over Duke sits on NKU’s athletics board. Before the Norse’s 2013 game in Rupp Arena, The Goose was at the NKU alumni/fan function.  There’s a really good reason why Jack got involved in NKU athletics, but I don’t remember what it was and I’m not calling him this early in the morning. Also, I don’t have his phone number.

 

KSR’s Ryan Lemond Played Baseball on Campus

Ryan Lemond

Ryan Lemond

There was a time when KSR’s Ryan Lemond was a REALLY good baseball player at Kentucky Wesleyan. Like all-time hits leader good (or stolen bases, I can’t remember). Kentucky Wesleyan was in the Great Lakes Valley Conference with NKU, so Lemond came to what was then Friendship Field (dumb name. It’s now Bill Aker Baseball Complex, named for former NKU baseball coach Bill Aker).

The first time I introduced myself to Ryan (at the behest of then Kentucky Wesleyan sports information director Roy Pickrell), he told a story about a group of students that sat atop the hill behind the center field fence and heckled the diminutive Panthers star. He said they yelled things like “who left their hat on the field.”

Those fans likely stopped at Skyline (see above) — which was four moon steps from center field — grabbed a six pack in a cooler that Skyline would inexplicably sell/rent to you — and took up residence under the tree in center to sip some beers and enjoy some baseball. And by “likely,” I mean we did.

Sorry, Ryan.

So I promised you five things and gave you ten. I hope the Norse can overachieve like that on Friday night.

 

My Week at Pauley Pavilion

Pauley Pavilion

Standing in the original Pauley Pavilion jump circle and looking into the rafters is one of my favorite sports memories.

Once upon a  very long time ago, as a young sports information director at an unheard of Division 2 university outside Chicago, I got to travel with the team for their Christmas week trip to Bakersfield.

Keep in mind nobody actually goes to Bakersfield on purpose. We were going to spend as little time there as humanly possible — on the way out we even slept on the concourse at LAX to avoid another night there (we were actually probably out of money). So the first three days of the trip before taking a savage beat down at the hands of then Division 2 power Cal State-Bakersfield were spent in Los Angeles.

The trip was great — other than the beatdown — we went to Disneyland (taking with us one player who had never really been out of Chicago, so his reaction was incredible), ate at a couple of great restaurants and got to watch a taping of the Jay Leno Show (our coach’s brother was a writer for an NBC sitcom at the time). But what I have always remembered most from that trip was how we were treated at Pauley Pavilion.

With a three-day stay prior to game night, the team had to find some place to practice. Originally that had been set up with Loyola-Marymount, but less than a month before the trip they cancelled. After frantic calls to schools throughout Southern California, in stepped UCLA. Both of their teams were out of town at Holiday tournaments, so the gym was open.

Walking into Pauley (even pre-renovation) was a semi-religious experience. It was a lot like the first time I ever wandered into Rupp. A quick look at the ceiling says everything you need to know about the place you’re standing in. I remember standing in that famous jump circle in awe of where I had the good fortune to be. I got to jack up a couple of really awful shots and then made way for practice.

And while being on the floor was incredible. It was what happened after practice that has stuck with me the most. We were about to head out with our trainer and an assistant coach (managers didn’t travel. Hell, I’m not even sure we had managers at home) carrying the bags of our practice gear to try to go find a local laundromat so they’d be ready for tomorrow. Just before we left a college kid in UCLA gear came sprinting out onto the floor.

We all kind of thought we had done something wrong. Nope. He wanted the uniforms. They were going to wash them and have them out for us. We told him he didn’t need to do that. He then all but demanded the uniforms. When we rolled in the next morning, they were clean and set out for us in the locker room. It was easily the best our players had ever been treated.

That experience in 1993 — along with an odd childhood love for watching the UCLA-USC football game and the Rose Bowl — is one of the reasons I’ve never hated UCLA the way I generally hate other top teams Kentucky faces. It’s a class program, run — generally — by class people.

I talked to UCLA Associate AD Chris Carlson earlier and told him that story. He thanked me and said “whenever somebody comes to Pauley, they are our guest. It’s been that way since Coach Wooden expected it.”

It reminded me of something Tom Leach said to me when I thanked him once for how great he has always been to me. He gave the credit to Cawood Ledford saying that’s the way Cawood had been with all of them and that local media members all sort of felt like they had a responsibility to carry that forward.

Program culture matters.

It’s about 10 minutes to tipoff of the game that in my eight years of hosting Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk that I am most thankful to have a seat for. Hope it’s a great one between two of the absolute best program’s in the sport’s history.

The Joker Phillips and Mark Stoops Records Aren’t the Same

We were asked a question this week on Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk about the similarities in Joker Phillips’ and Mark Stoops’ coaching records at UK. I explained why they weren’t really the same.

Here it is…the Car Analoogy.

On Holidays and a Bigger World

Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz at the 2016 Republican National Convention (photo borrowed from The Guardian I think)

In what can’t be more than the third most ridiculous piece of political bluster in the last two days, former North Carolina State, Arkansas, Notre Dame, South Carolina and (briefly) New York Jets head football coach Lou Holtz let his views on immigration be known today at the Republican National Convention. The man who now at least a little ironically helmed a team named for Irishmen derided what he saw as an “invasion” of immigrants, saying, according to the Daily Beast, “I don’t want to become you. I don’t want to speak your language. I don’t want to celebrate your holidays. I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!”

Let’s forget the old man yells at clouds knock at soccer. I’ve gotten myself into enough trouble defending soccer lately. No need to head down that road again.

I’ve written in this space my thoughts about the immigration situation. I didn’t know then what the answer was. I don’t know now. I doubt that will ever change.

Still, what Holtz said troubled me. “I don’t want to celebrate your Holidays.”

I used to drive to South Bend with my uncle. Uncle Frank was a Catholic priest and he had been a Notre Dame season ticket holder since the days when season tickets were easy to come by. We cheered Holtz’s teams there together.

I saw Holtz speak at a Catholic men’s conference once. He spoke of faith and family and responsibility. It was compelling. It was also all apparently garbage.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

We celebrate “foreign” holidays all the time of course. Again, more than a little ironically the Irish-themed St. Patrick’s Day holiday. There’s Cinco de Mayo, a more or less Mexican holiday that gives us “real” Americans an excuse to drink margaritas and hammer down chips and salsa. There are others. There are different ethnic variations on the Christmas season. My German family celebrated St. Nicholas Day, for example.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

I have been disappointed by sports figures before. I’ve been sad for them too. I’m more of the latter for Holtz.

“I don’t want to celebrate your Holidays.”

This Christmas, something unusual happened. Our neighbors brought us a Christmas gift. That part wasn’t strange in and of itself. Thousands of neighbors give thousands of neighbors Christmas presents across the country every year. My neighbors, though, are Muslims.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

The mother of the family next door rang our doorbell. The smile on her face was enormous. Her and her youngest son handed us a wrapped box that turned out to be cookies. She smiled. Her son smiled. I smiled…until I closed the door. Then I cried.

A simple box of cookies was one of the most perfect Christmas gifts my family had ever received. It was given with nothing other than joy and in the true spirit of the holiday – not their holiday. My holiday.

“I don’t want to celebrate their holidays.”

When Ramadan began this year, I kept track – for the first time in my life. Whenever we saw each other we talked of their holiday. How difficult it is for them – not eating from sunup to sundown during the longest days of the year. I kept checking to see how far we were from the Eid – the end of Ramadan, the breaking of the fast. I asked a friend who lives in the middle east what an appropriate gift was – sweets, it turned out. I made sure I found something that didn’t violate their food restrictions. Chocolate cake works if you ever find yourself in that situation. I grabbed a chocolate cake (I don’t bake), and at sundown my older son and I took it to their house. Their family – the whole extended family — was there, everyone dressed up, everyone smiling and celebrating and exchanging gifts. There were colored lights everywhere. Holtz would be interested to know that aside from a missing evergreen it looked a fair amount like Christmas. We gave them the cake. I smiled. They smiled. They acted as if we had given them the greatest Eid gift ever, their own box of cookies. It was one of the greatest holiday experiences of my life – not my holiday. Their holiday.

I grew up in a wonderful place. Edgewood, Ky., was – and still is – the ideal setting to grow up in. But I also grew up in a very small world. Nearly everyone was exactly like me. Until college I was fundamentally afraid of nearly everyone from the middle east.

As time has gone by, I haven’t forgotten how wonderful a place Edgewood and the people in it are and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned there. At the same time, I have allowed my world to get bigger. I have learned to welcome people into my life who look, live, love and worship differently than I do. It has made me no less American. It has made me far happier.

Lou Holtz may not want to celebrate “their” holidays. But I sure as hell do. He has no idea what he’s missing, in so many ways.

Not Sure Where to Put This – Two Debate Thoughts

Jon Kasich

Ohio Governor John Kasich had the audacity to say we maybe shouldn’t be jerks to each other. What kind of monster is he?”

Like however many million Americans, I watched last night’s Presidential (it should be noted that’s a political distinction, not a descriptor of the participants’ demeanor) Debate with a fair amount of shock and horror. It quickly became — almost literally — the first d–k-measuring contest in presidential politics history. Lincoln-Douglas it was not and likely will never be again.

The fact that the exercise turned into a crude, vile shoutfest is a simple reflection of one candidate’s participation in the process this year. Of course that candidate is Donald Trump. He has sunk the election process into the worst possible high school student government election — filled with little more than shouts and personal insults. Unfortunately other candidates — especially Marco Rubio — have followed suit. In fact, it was Rubio who started the “size matters” campaign conversation with what is likely a first of its kind d–k joke at a campaign appearance.

I detest Trump. I think he’s dangerous in a way no other candidate in my lifetime has been. A country that elects Donald Trump President gets exactly what it deserves. Follow me on Twitter for daily reflections on Trump and Trump supporters. That said, we get to official Debate Thought 1. Shockingly, maybe accidentally, near the end of the debate Trump made a reasonable, coherent and honestly important point.

Campaign-long Trump foil Megyn Kelly tried to trap Trump in a standard debate gotcha moment. The question went something like, “Mr. Trump, you used to believe this. Now you say you believe the opposite. Which is it.”

From there Trump went two directions. The first was to simply say he got more information and changed his mind. He followed that by asking something to the effect of if I believe something and decide I was wrong, what I am supposed to do, continue being wrong forever?” In the school of modern political activity, where orthodoxy is king and seemingly never existent consistency is demanded, this was a shocking moment. And an important one. That it came from Trump sort of stopped me in my tracks.

The second came when Ted Cruz hammered Trump for talking about compromising. Trump’s response was actually pretty solid. He pointed out that sometimes you have to compromise to get anything accomplished. This is anathema to modern Republican thought, where compromising is to be avoided at all cost and must be punished. This wasn’t always so. Republicans love to hail Ronald Reagan. Reagan never once had a Republican House of Representatives. One of the things that made Reagan and then-Speaker Tip O’Neill so great was that the two of them could work out their differences and settle on something that worked well enough for both sides. This is also known as getting things done. It shouldn’t be compromise Republican voters get upset about. It should be folding and getting nothing in return.

All that said, I still think Trump is an idiot and a danger to the country and can’t see a single decent reason to vote for him. That he made two coherent points in that sea of nonsense is either miraculous or an accident.

The second thought centers around John Kasich. I thought Kasich won the debate despite more limited time to talk than the other three. He sounded like a grown up surrounded by screaming teenagers. He made reasonable, coherent points and went the full two hours without embarrassing himself. You wouldn’t think that would be an accomplishment at a Presidential debate, but apparently it is. Twice he was asked specific policy questions and responded with specific way that he solved those exact problems as Governor of Ohio. Despite all of this the Twittersphere largely yawned…or worse.

After the debate, I stumbled upon this tweet:

This is from a former Congressman and current radio host. In less than 140 characters it tells you exactly what is wrong with the Republican party today.

John Kasich is a budget balancing, union disrupting, unapologetically Pro-Life candidate. In the debate he made clear that he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. He even indicated a preference that bakers and photographers and the like who don’t want to participate in gay marriages should have a little legal protection. The only difference between his position and Walsh’s — I presume — is that Kasich had the audacity to add the idea that even if that’s what you believe, maybe you shouldn’t treat people who don’t believe the same thing as you like crap. How dare he?

Kasich’s position is incredibly similar to one that I have espoused numerous times when guest hosing Leland Conway’s show on NewsRadio 630 in Lexington. It goes something like this: “Don’t be jerks to each other.” If that makes Kasich a liberal, then I guess I am too. If that makes Kasich unfit to be a Republican, maybe we both need a better option.

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