How Glen Rice and the number 41 strangely helped shape my marriage proposal (and so many other things)

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m here to tell you a love story. But I’m not going to go with the typical love story here…you’ve heard those. This isn’t a story of how it took close to four decades to find the person I’m meant to spend my life with and all of the reasons I love her. While some of those things might come up here, I want to go in a different direction today. This is a love story that revolves around my favorite number, the basketball player that made me love that number and how that number plays into this story as a whole. As I tend to do sometimes, I might go a little over the top and stretch some things to fit the narrative I’m rolling with…but I’m a storyteller. And what storyteller doesn’t take things over the top sometimes?

It’s 1989 and I’m nine years old, just a couple of months away from turning 10. Now, my 10th birthday isn’t an issue here but my day of birth does come into play later on. So as most boys of that age do, I love sports. For the most part, I’d been a baseball kid, that Midwest kid dreaming of one day being the guy that finally helps the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. My hometown of Peoria, Illinois had the Single-A affiliate of the Cubs, the Peoria Chiefs, and I was going to start there and move my way up to the big leagues someday…you know, typical kid dreams. Spoiler alert…that did not happen.

But my attention was starting to shift to the game of basketball. Just a few years earlier, I’d turned on a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, still the greatest rivalry that American sports has ever seen, and I fall in love with Magic Johnson and the way he controls the game. So I instantly become a Lakers fan and have been ever since, which wasn’t easy given the fact that I live in Illinois…you know, the state that houses the Chicago Bulls, who at that time had this youngster named Michael Jordan (maybe you’ve heard of him) that was rapidly becoming the top draw and player in the game. But I stuck with my Lakers, even when Jordan & Co. became the hottest thing in sports.

So, we’re still with my nine-year-old self in the spring of 1989 and I’m patiently waiting for the baseball season to start. The Cubs were looking good that year and actually did go to the playoffs for the first time in five years but I’m looking for some sports to watch and spring training baseball just isn’t getting it done for me. Now, I hadn’t watched a ton of college basketball at this point in my life. Growing up, I’d go to the Bradley University games down at the Peoria Civic Center to watch Jim Les and Hersey Hawkins, both of whom went on to play in the NBA, but that was really the only team I rooted for. That was about to change because of one guy.

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of my favorite sporting events but it wasn’t always that way. As I said, I hadn’t watched a ton of college basketball but I became hooked in 1989 and it wasn’t because of the team that I was “supposed” to be rooting for. I had heard some kids in school talk about the “Flyin’ Illini”, the team from the University of Illinois (which was only 90 minutes away from me) that had Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty and others…just a dominating squad that at one point held the No. 1 ranking in the country that season. But it wasn’t them at all. It was their Big Ten rival, the Michigan Wolverines, that grabbed my attention and it all started with No. 41, Glen Rice.

Glen Rice was an absolute monster that tournament and I was glued to the television, glued to No. 41 and his ability to take over a basketball game. The No. 3 seed in the Southeast Regional, Michigan opened the tournament with a 92-87 win over Xavier behind 23 points from Rice, his lowest output of the tourney. He scored 36 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists in a second-round win over 11th-seeded South Alabama…that was a crazy year in which all four No. 11 seeds advanced to the second round…and followed that up with a 34-point game in the Sweet 16 over second-seeded North Carolina, the Tarheels squad that was led by J.R. Reid.

Rice continued his stellar play in the Elite Eight as the Wolverines blistered fifth-seeded Virginia, who had upset top-ranked Oklahoma in the previous round, beating the Cavaliers 102-65 as No. 41 poured in 32 more points. Now, it wasn’t just Rice that was winning these games…the Wolverines were stocked with future NBA talent like Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, Sean Higgins and Rumeal Robinson…but it was Rice that was dominating the tournament and a Final Four matchup with Illinois was set.

The Fighting Illini were the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and they really were a fun team to watch. They won their first 17 games that season and brought a 27-4 record into the tournament, including an 89-73 win over Michigan to close out the regular season, their second win over the Wolverines in Big Ten play. But the Final Four matchup didn’t have the same result. In an amazing game that saw 33 lead changes, the Wolverines prevailed by two, an 83-81 victory that took them to the national title game. In a true team effort, Rumeal Robinson dished out 12 assists, Loy Vaught grabbed 16 rebounds and leading the way with 28 points…you guessed it, Glen Rice. The Wolverines finished things off two nights later in a thrilling 80-79 overtime win against Seton Hall, once again led by Rice, who scored 34 points and nabbed 11 boards, easily clinching the Most Outstanding Player trophy.

Now, I obviously didn’t know all of these stats when I was nine years old…that’s just the fun of researching as a sportswriter…but I knew I had seen something special. To this very day, nobody has scored more points (184), hit more field goals (75) or sank more threes (27) in a single NCAA Tournament than Glen Rice did in 1989. I was in and I was hooked. I was a Michigan guy, a Glen Rice guy, a No. 41 guy. I remain a Michigan sports fan to this day and that’s all because of No. 41.

Now, I hadn’t forgotten about Magic Johnson and his No. 32. I wore that number when I played ball in grade school but that would change as I continued to follow Glen Rice as he made his move to the NBA. And this is the point in the story where I start to have some fun with the number 41, which really is the point of this whole thing as the number continued(and continues) to play a huge part in my life. And this is where the stretching part comes in…but it’s my article and I want to have some fun with it so just let me be. With the 4th pick in Round 1 of the 1989 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat chose Glen Rice. See what I did there? Okay, that really is stretching it but at least the first one is out of the way.

With basketball replacing baseball as my main sport of choice as I rolled into my teen years, I obviously watched along with the rest of the world as Jordan, Pippen and the Bulls became the focus of the NBA. But I was still following No. 41. With no NBA League Pass available back in those days, I didn’t get a ton of opportunities to watch Glen Rice play, especially seeing as how he was on an expansion team that was trying to find its way. But I watched as much SportsCenter as I could with the hope that I’d catch some Rice highlights here and there. And I was a stats and numbers junkie and I had this book  a sort of almanac with all of the numbers of the players in the league and I specifically remember turning to the Glen Rice page to put his averages together for a class project and it was here that I discovered something truly awesome. He was born on May 28, 1967. I was born on May 28, 1979. Yep, I share a birthday with Glen Rice. See, I told you that would come back around. And since we’re on that, let’s go ahead and do this now. So my birthday is 05/28/1979, right? 0+5+2+8+1+9+7+9=41. Yes, I actually took the time to do that last week while doing some prep for this piece and I love it.

As I got into high school, Glen Rice was becoming a solid player in the NBA. After a couple of years being in the background behind guys like Rony Seikaly (bet you haven’t thought about that guy in a while), he had become the focal point of the Heat offense, averaging more than 21 points per game in his last four seasons in Miami. He was 10th in the league in scoring in his final season with the Heat and also won the NBA All-Star Three Point Contest (a HUGE All-Star Game snub that year) before being shipped to the Charlotte Hornets ahead of the 1995-1996 campaign.

By this time, I was wearing No. 41 for my basketball team in high school (I had dropped a career high of 41 the season before) and Glen Rice had become a force in the league. He FINALLY made an All-Star team in his first season in Charlotte and would be an All-Star all three seasons as a Hornet, including being the All-Star Game MVP in 1997, a game in which he dropped 20 points in the third quarter alone, a record for most points in a single quarter that he held on his own for two decades until it was matched by Anthony Davis in 2017.

And then it happened. After three years in Charlotte, Glen Rice was traded to…the freaking Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, after all these years of hoping that I’d see him wearing No. 41 in the purple and gold, it was here. Brought to L.A. to be the third option behind Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant, Rice scored 17.5 points per game in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season and added 15.9 per night the following season as the Lakers won the first of their three consecutive titles to begin the new millennium. I was in heaven watching this. Kobe had become my new favorite Laker and watching he and Shaq dish to Glen Rice on the perimeter…are you freaking kidding me? This was amazing. Unfortunately, Rice was shipped to the Knicks the following season but he had gotten an NBA Championship to go along with his NCAA title from 1989…and it also prompted my best friend to get me this for my birthday, which seems even more fitting now.

Michigan 41 Glen Rice and Lakers 41 Glen Rice. Awesome, right?

For the next four years, Rice’s career would wind down as he jumped from New York to Houston and finally the Clippers and his numbers would wind down as well as injuries to his foot and knee would bring an unceremonious end to his stellar career. As of this moment, Glen Rice has scored the 73rd-most points in NBA history with 18,336 and hit the 29th-most three-pointers with 1,559. Not bad at all, I would say. Honestly, I was sad to see how his career ended. Even with a few All-Star nods and that MVP performance, he was often underrated as a player. Think about how many thousands of players have come and gone in the NBA and here he sits at 73rd in points…by the way, that’s more points scored in the NBA than Hall of Famers like Chris Mullin, Lenny Wilkens, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Earl Monroe, Steve Nash, Kevin McHale, Grant Hill, Joe Dumars, James Worthy and so many others…and 29th in threes. That’s pretty impressive. But I was lucky. I got to watch his career from start to finish and I was one who appreciated what I was watching. So watching him have to hobble at the end of his career and then just walk away was sad for me. For 15 years, I followed this guy’s career and wanted to wear that No. 41 because of him. Little did I realize at the time that the number 41 would continue to be a factor in my life and would help shape so many things.

Okay, okay…so you may have gotten through all of that and started thinking that this was just one big ode to Glen Rice. Well, I wanted to go through all of that to get here. And honestly, since I’ve become a sportswriter, I’ve never had the chance to write about him for any of my sites and this was my opportunity. So I took it and I loved researching all of it. But how does a basketball player like Glen Rice and No. 41 play into my own personal story here?

In the years after Glen Rice retired, the number 41 would still come up for me from time to time. I had actually moved to Florida during his last season and would have to answer questions down there constantly about why I was a Michigan fan when I was from Illinois. It usually had to do with Michigan football but I would tell the story of that 1989 tournament where I saw No. 41 light up everyone. I think most people assumed that I started liking Michigan basketball when the Fab Five came around in the early ’90s but that wasn’t the case. Sure, I loved those teams, especially Jalen Rose (he was a guard and I’ve always leaned towards guards since that’s what I was) but my Michigan fandom always went back to Rice. In my mid-20s at this time, I obviously wasn’t playing basketball competitively anymore and didn’t have a jersey to wear but I always kept the number in my head. I probably shouldn’t say this but I would use it for passwords or pin numbers or something like that and the number just became part of who I am. That might sound a little silly but I think everyone has a favorite number for one reason or another and I just stuck with 41.

And then life happened. I got married, moved back to Illinois and had two amazing identical twin daughters, Ashlyn and Brooklyn. They were born on October 7, 2010, 11 weeks early and it was hard. They were kept in the NICU for quite a while and I was really hoping that they would be released on their 41st day as it neared. Their health was improving every day and as the day inched closer, the amazing staff at the hospital said they were almost ready. It didn’t happen on that day but it did on the 44th day, which was November 20, 2010. Yes, that’s 11+20+10=41. I told you, I can twist anything to fit this narrative. But I do honestly remember going through some of the big events that would happen in their life and how old I would be when they happened…when they graduated high school or college or maybe even when they got married or had their own kids. Or hitting those big milestone ages…like 10, which they’ll turn later this year, when I’ll be…41.

And then the other side of life happened…and I’ll keep this as brief as possible as I don’t want to turn this into a pity party. But I got divorced and while all of that mess was unfolding, my father got sick (again) and passed. Not long after that, I lost my job. Certain areas of my life were an absolute mess but I had people behind me, keeping me up when I got down on myself, which unfortunately happens quite easily. But I pressed on. I started this website in 2013 to start writing again as writing has always been therapeutic for me. In 2014, I quit my new job to try sportswriting on a full-time basis, something I’d always wanted to try but never really went after. It was going fine but I wasn’t making a ton of money and have always had to take some other jobs to keep myself afloat…all the while still hoping that this dream of mine might someday work out.

Fast forward to 2017 and things are still a little shaky at points. I still had my daughters to always lift me up but I was coming out of another long relationship that had ended and I was in a very confused state of mind. And then I met LeeAnn. Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that our relationship had the most romantic of starts but I was into her. I was working part-time at a local bar and I had met her sister, who is a hilarious stand-up comedienne whom I would make tell me jokes for shots, and she thought we might hit it off. And we did.

I told LeeAnn I wasn’t looking for anything serious at the time, and she really wasn’t either, but by the end of the year, we were all in with one another. We met each other’s children and talked about a future together and everything that goes along with that, including me getting married again, which is something that frightened me to no end and had been the biggest part of the previous relationship ending. I thought I had gotten to a point where I could again, even saying I could again, and when I couldn’t, things were over and that was all on me. But I had moved on and I knew that I was in love with LeeAnn and I knew I had to grow, had to get to a different way of thinking because I wanted a future with her.

Fast forward again towards the end of 2018 and I thought I had blown it. It was early November and I had royally screwed up…I mean, royally screwed up…the kind of thing you don’t come back from. Things were getting even more serious as talks amped up about what our future held and I was an extremely confused person and to put it simply, I became somebody I’m not. I got scared and ran away, gave her a reason to leave me. And yet she didn’t. I mean, she did, but not long after we split up, which involved a gut-wrenching conversation with my daughters about her not being around as much anymore, LeeAnn let me back in. It started small with a concert but then it was still Christmas with my family and I wondered if we really could get back to the place we had been before. I had to do some real soul searching and I came to the conclusion that she was what I wanted and who I wanted forever. And I was going to do everything it took to make that happen.

LeeAnn turned 40 on January 15, 2019 and the following night, I made her a private birthday dinner. We had done the things with the kids the night before…another good sign that we were close to getting back…but I didn’t know for sure where things were going. But at that 40th birthday dinner, she told me she was back in and I couldn’t have been happier. I told myself that night that if I could get back to this same dinner a year later, I was going to ask her to marry me…honestly not even thinking about what that meant at the time.

2019 was an absolute whirlwind. I turned 40 myself in May, which I didn’t make into a big deal as I’d told myself for a while that I wanted 41 to be the big one. I mean…that makes more sense for me, right? So it came and went and that was okay because we had bigger fish to fry that week as we were taking the kids down to Florida. In July, we bought a house together and moved in August after so much freaking painting. I was still writing on the side while working for this wine company, in addition to doing some other side jobs that I absolutely hated. But life was good in most aspects. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be professionally but I kept pushing forward and doing what I could. As 2020 neared, I knew something was going to be special. I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions or anything like that, but I just had a feeling that the year I turned 41 was supposed to be something different.

The first couple of weeks of 2020 went really slow. I knew what I’d be doing soon and had the ring ready to roll and the day couldn’t come fast enough. I joked with her about not being 40 anymore but in her 40s soon…you know, talking to a woman about her age is always the smart thing to do…and a day or two before her 41st birthday, I actually talked with her about the number and Glen Rice and all of it. I had originally wanted her birthday dinner with just the two of us to be on the 16th, which was one year after she had let me back in. But it worked out best on her actual birthday and I was okay with it.

The day of her 41st birthday didn’t start smoothly. One of my daughters had to stay home sick from school and I still needed to get all the things to make dinner that night. I didn’t really want to drag her around to a couple of stores but she was amazing and I so badly wanted to tell her what I was doing that night but I couldn’t let it slip to anyone. Not even my mother knew. My daughters went back to their mom’s that night and I got to work. I made a nice steak dinner, opened up some beautiful wine and we ate. I had told her that in the days leading up, she would get smaller presents and then 1 big present, which she thought was just the dinner. But after dinner was the real present.

Now, I like to think that I’m usually pretty decent with words but I had never been so nervous in my life and I’m still pretty sure I fumbled through everything. I had the ring in my pocket and I just started talking about how amazing the last year had been, how we had this new house and this new family together and how I was right where I wanted to be. I don’t know exactly how it came out but I told her that for the longest time, I thought I’d been waiting for my 41st birthday for something great to happen but that it wasn’t mine I’d been waiting for all this time. It was hers. The ring was in my hand at this time and I dropped to one knee, tears already flowing down my face (I really thought I was gonna get through it) and I asked her to marry me. At this point, she was crying as well and we embraced and she said “yes” ever so softly and it was absolutely perfect.

In the month since the engagement, if you can believe it, life has gotten even better. Just two weeks ago, the dream job finally came to be. I was offered and accepted a full-time position with a great site called Sportscasting, a job that comes with a nice yearly salary, benefits, retirement and I get to do all of this from the same spot where I’m writing this piece, right here in my own home, this wonderful new home that LeeAnn and I share with our family. I’ve got a couple of days of orientation this upcoming Monday and Tuesday and I really get going on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. 2+19+20=41.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “you just can’t write stuff like that.” Well, I can tell you that “stuff like that” can happen. Sure, I thought that things like this might happen for me sooner. And I’ve never really believed in things like destiny or a divine plan or anything like that but maybe I was supposed to go through all of the things I have to get right here…right here to this year I turn 41, right to that day when LeeAnn turned 41 and I finally let go of so many fears, right here to this life that I’ve always dreamed of having.

Sure, this has been a silly story that started with me talking about some player at Michigan that I saw on TV more than three decades ago that wore No. 41. But that number somehow became something for me, something I held onto. I never knew why, but as I said previously, it stayed with me. And now I’m just running with it. LeeAnn and I are getting married in late summer but will likely have to wait a couple of months for the honeymoon. We have kids in school and it’s hard to get away for a week at a time. My idea? Let’s wait until winter break and go somewhere over New Year’s, when the calendar hits 2021. 20+21=41. Yeah, I know, it’s goofy and weird but it’s fun.

The wedding date, you ask? September 12, 2020. 9+12+20=41. You think that’s an accident?

And there’s an open invitation for Glen Rice.

What The 2016 Chicago Cubs Taught Us About Hope (A Guest Post by Michael Murphy)

From time to time, I like to open up The Luke Norris Experience to those who have something they want to get out to the world but just don’t have a forum to do so. Just yesterday, I wrote a piece entitled “What The Cubs Winning The World Series Means To Me“, knowing full well that there were likely many others who had probably done the same or were thinking of doing the same. As it happens, one of those people is Michael Murphy, a great friend of mine that I’ve known since high school that shares my love for the Cubs. Murph is an extremely intelligent and talented lawyer who doesn’t get to do much creative writing but just as it was with me wanted to get his thoughts on the Cubs winning the World Series out to the world. So without further ado, here they are:

Don’t ever give up on your dreams, friends.

Through failure, adversity, frustration, mediocrity, humiliation, despair, and even desperation, don’t ever give up. Why?  There are many reasons, but one of them is that the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series. 

I was born in 1979 and have been a Cubs fan as long as I can remember. I never considered rooting for another team; my father raised me to be a Cubs fan. It was the only thing I ever knew.  I never questioned it. I never begrudged my father for instilling this in me. I have always been and will always be a Chicago Cubs fan.

But I was bred into a losing fandom and could only dream what it might be like if the Cubs won a championship. In 2016, the Cubs had not won the World Series in 108 years. They had not even appeared in the World Series since 1945. From 1979 to 2016, the Cubs had 25 seasons where they lost more games than they won. But I never gave up hope.

The Cubs occasionally made the postseason. They were leading the National League Championship Series (NLCS) in 1984 three games to one, lost three straight games, and lost the series to San Diego. They were tied one game to one in the 1989 NLCS, and lost three straight games to San Francisco to lose the series. I barely remember these, but I learned of them through my Cubs fandom.   Despite this knowledge, I never gave up hope.

In 1998, after winning a one-game playoff, the Cubs achieved a wild card spot in the playoffs. The Cubs were swept in three games by the Atlanta Braves. But I never gave up hope.

In 2003, the Cubs won their first postseason series since 1908, beating the Atlanta Braves in five games in the National League Division Series (NLDS).  Then, the Cubs were leading the NLCS three games to one and were five outs away from advancing to the World Series, leading three to nothing in Game 6 against Florida. They lost Game 6, lost Game 7, and lost the series. I was 24, and I vividly remember the lasting pain of the conclusion of the 2003 Cubs season. But I never gave up hope. 

The Cubs had great teams in 2007 and 2008, winning the Central Division both years to advance to the postseason. They were swept in the NLDS by Arizona in 2007 and Los Angeles in 2008. That was nine straight postseason games lost.  But I never gave up hope. 

In 2015, the Cubs advanced to the NLCS, only to be swept in four games by New York.  But I never gave up hope.  

The 2016 Cubs season was different. THESE Cubs never gave up.  They had the best record in Major League Baseball, coming from behind to win an amazing eight times when they were trailing entering the ninth inning. These Cubs were leading the NLDS two games to one, but were down by three runs after eight innings in San Francisco. They were facing a series tied at two games each and a pressure-packed elimination Game 5 back at Wrigley Field. But they did not give up hope in Game 4.  They scored four runs in the ninth inning and won the series.

These Cubs were losing the NLCS two games to one in Los Angeles, having been shutout in the past two games. But they never gave up hope.  They won three games in a row to advance to the World Series.

These Cubs were losing the World Series three games to one. But they never gave up hope.  They won Game 5 at Wrigley Field to make the series three to two, yet then faced two road games in Cleveland, with Cleveland needing only one win to eliminate the Cubs. They won Game 6 nine to three, and proceeded to the ultimate baseball game, Game 7 of the World Series.

These Cubs had a six to three lead with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 7. They allowed Cleveland to tie the game six to six in the eighth. Although they surrendered the lead when they were four outs away from finally winning a title, they never gave up hope.

These Cubs rallied to score two runs in the tenth inning of Game 7. They allowed a run to Cleveland in the bottom of the tenth, and then with two outs, Cleveland had the tying run at first base, and the winning run at the plate. But these Cubs never quit; they only needed one more out. These Cubs got the final out and won their first World Series in 108 years. 

I believed in all the Chicago Cubs teams prior to 2016, and they did not achieve the ultimate goal. But I never gave up hope and believed again in 2016. These 2016 Chicago Cubs never quit.  These Chicago Cubs never gave up hope. These Chicago Cubs accomplished the seemingly impossible by winning the World Series.  These gritty, hardworking, never say die 2016 Cubs made their dreams come true, along with the dreams of millions of dedicated and faithful Cubs fans.

The story of the Chicago Cubs and its fandom transcends baseball. Being a Cubs fan is admittedly attaching great emotion to a game one has no power to affect, and sports fandom in general is not for everyone. The story of the Chicago Cubs, however, is a source of hope for all.

The fact that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series means that anything can happen, including things that have not occurred in over a century, things very few people alive have ever seen, and things no one alive has ever seen. No matter how long and painful the failure to achieve a goal may be, never give up hope. No matter how sad, depressed, ashamed, or exasperated one feels, there is always hope. Believe in your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, your fellow Americans, humankind in general and, most importantly, yourself. There is always hope.

Sometimes, or maybe many times, or perhaps over a hundred times, the goal will not be achieved. But there is always hope that a goal thought to be only a dream can be achieved. When that goal is something you were emotionally invested in and hoped would happen for a lifetime, a Cubs fan can assure you that reaching it will be an amazing experience. So, don’t ever give up on your dreams, friends.  

-Michael P. Murphy

What The Cubs Winning The World Series Means To Me

Yes, I realize that it’s now been five days since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (and yes, that is a very strange sentence to type) and that some of you may be sick of all of the posts and memes and stories about it, but I just can’t pass up this chance to share my thoughts on the matter with you, especially with those of you whom I know have been asking and waiting patiently for them. But honestly, I really wanted to let everything sink in and see the rest of the stories come out that go along with this monumental occasion. And I’ve also had to deal with my two daughters being sick and everything that goes along with that, I had a wedding to attend and of course had some actual work to do. But with the short time I do have available today (and wanting to get it in before so many of you get angry about the election tomorrow), here it goes.

It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.

I want so badly to be able to take credit for that line but that actually comes from Moneyball (a movie that just gets better with each and every viewing and something I may or may not have watched multiple times in the past week) and it fits so perfectly with everything that took place during this World Series run by the Chicago Cubs. Now, I could go on for hours and hours on why exactly I love baseball so much. I could pull the James Earl Jones speech from Field of Dreams and just break that down line by line and likely get 10,000 words out of it but I’ll try to keep myself reeled in as best I can as I go along here.

But I do love baseball. As far as sports are concerned, it really was my first love. Like so many other kids that grew up in my generation, I was just drawn to it from the start. There was just something so simple about it when you were a kid, wasn’t there? This was obviously before I realized how much actually goes into a baseball game what with the strategy of a hit and run or a pitching change to get the lefty vs lefty matchup or a double switch or any of the numerous other little things that each and every Major League game contains. But when you’re a kid, you’ve got a ball, a bat and a glove and everything seems so simple. I hit the ball. You field it. I throw the ball. You catch it. I mean, we could make a game out of anything, couldn’t we? If we didn’t have enough people to play a real game, you just improvised. Remember 500? Or 700? Or 900? It was a game where you just threw the ball up in the air and yelled a random number of points that was awarded to the person who caught it. If it sounds that simple it’s because it was. Even if it was only myself and one other person, we could still find a way to somehow play some kind of full game, even if that meant that one of us had to play both pitcher and hitter by throwing the ball up and hitting it yourself while the other person attempted to catch the ball before it crossed a line in the street or a rock trail in a random field in the neighborhood . While it was essentially a home run derby, my friend Bob and I called it the “3-Out Game” and we would play a full nine-inning game multiple times a day until the street lights told us it was time to stop. That was our life and that’s what we did.

And I love the Chicago Cubs. While I’ve got a favorite team in every sport, there’s never been one that I’ve rooted for as much as I have for the Cubs. And again, that just goes back to when I was a boy. I mean, one of the ways I learned to read was from sitting with my grandfather reading the Cubs stories in the Chicago Tribune. I went as Andre Dawson, still my favorite Cub of all time, for Halloween. I wore a Chicago Cubs uniform for my school picture in second grade.  With that being said, I also wore a Cardinals jersey the following year because my father, who was a huge Cardinals fan, essentially forced me to do so. But that was part of the fun of loving the Cubs so much. While most boys end up rooting for the team that their father does, I went the opposite way and we would just go back and forth at each other, obviously with Pop being able to use the 1908 joke whenever he felt like it to win the discussion. But that was also just part of the fun of where I grew up. Peoria, IL is basically halfway between Chicago and St. Louis and the fans around here are split right down the middle…with a few White Sox fans sprinkled in here and there.

And growing up as a Cubs fan in Peoria was pretty awesome as one of their minor-league affiliates, the Chiefs, were here in town and I was able to see so many future greats like Greg Maddux and Mark Grace before they were stars at this little rinky-dink ballpark in the center of town (there’s a much nicer stadium downtown these days) and I thought it was the greatest place in the world…until I went to Wrigley Field. I’d watched so many games on WGN and walking up that ramp and seeing scoreboard and the field and the ivy for the first time is a moment I’ll never forget. Walking into that place was like walking into a church for me and even now, as a guy in my late 30s, I still get that feeling every time I go there because it really does, even if only for a few hours, take me back to a simpler time. You sit in those stands for a few hours and you can forget everything else that’s going on around you. It doesn’t mean that everything else goes away, but for nine innings you can sit and worry about nothing else besides if you’re going to see that “W” flag fly. Unfortunately, the Cubs just didn’t win that much when I was a kid.

I was only five years old in 1984 so I can’t really pretend to remember feeling any heartbreak when the Cubs lost to the Padres in the NLCS after holding a 2-0 lead. But I do remember the feeling I had in 1989 when they lost to the Giants. Or how heartbroken I was when they let Greg Maddux get away. And I honestly was mad at them for a long time, so much so that I once wore an opposing player’s jersey into the Friendly Confines just to let them know. I sure showed them. And like so many others, I got away from baseball for a while after the strike in 1994. Sure, I still followed what was happening but basketball had then become the sport that I played the most and paid the most attention to during my teenage years. But also like so many others, the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 coupled with the Cubs’ playoff chase brought me back. I remember parading the streets in college when they won the Wild Card that fall and once again being disappointed when they couldn’t advance. And of course there was the 2003 season.

2003 had to be the year, right? With that team and with that pitching staff, there was no way in the world that the Cubs could blow a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, right? Well, I think we all know how that turned out and in case you’re wondering, no, I was never one to blame Steve Bartman for anything. I’ve felt so sorry for that guy since that fateful night and I honestly hope that this year’s happenings has given that man a little bit of peace. But it was just so unbelievable to watch. And then I watched in horror over the next three years as the Boston Red Sox broke their 86-year “curse”, the crosstown Chicago White Sox bring a title to Chicago for the first time since 1917 and watched as the rival St. Louis Cardinals win their 10th World Series crown. Of all of the teams that could win titles after the Cubs blew their best chance in nearly sixty years, it had to be those three? Throw in the fact that the Red Sox won two more and the Cardinals won another before the Cubs even got back to the NLCS and you just couldn’t help but feel that a World Series win wasn’t in the cards for the North Side. Even their playoff runs in 2007 and 2008 never had that championship feel to them.

As the decade turned, I sat and watched five straight last-place finishes, including the 2012 season when they lost 101 games. But we were told to be patient. There was a plan in place that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were sticking to and Cubs fans just had to wait. After more than 100 years without a title, what’s a few more? So we waited. We watched as these kids were drafted and developed. We watched as trades were made and free agents were signed, all with the hope that this tortured fan base would someday get to feel what so many others had felt. And finally, in 2015, the plan truly began to take shape as the Cubs won 97 games and took the second Wild Card spot. And we watched as Jake Arrieta threw a gem in Pittsburgh. And we watched as for the first time in history, the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals played each other in the playoffs. And the Cubs actually won. Could this really be happening? If the Cubs finally bested their bitter rivals, they could do anything, right? Well, the New York Mets had something to say about that and championship hopes were dashed once again as the Cubs were swept in the NLCS and the “wait until next year” slogan once again had to be thrown around and Cubs fans had to once again be ridiculed mercilessly. It’s just something that comes along with the territory and is just that much worse now that social media is around. Honestly, could you imagine some of the Facebook or Twitter posts that would have come along with any of those Cubs teams (’69, ’84, ’03) that blew big leads?

But then it happened. Next year was finally here and someday became a thing of the past last Wednesday night (or Thursday depending on where you live) when the Cubs won that epic Game 7 in Cleveland. I suppose I probably didn’t need to get into all of the history that I did but it all plays into what happened during this World Series, doesn’t it? Cubs fans have had to deal with more loss and more heartbreak than any other franchise in sports in the last century. I mean, even the Cleveland Browns won a championship in 1964. And that feeling was there on numerous occasions throughout the series. The Cubs got blanked in Game 1 so there was an immediate need to fight back, which they did in Game 2. But then they lost Game 3. And then Game 4 to go down 3-1, which usually means that you’re going to lose. But this is the beauty of baseball.

I’ve long said that more than other sport in the world, any given team in baseball can win on any given day. A last-place team in baseball can win more easily against a first-place team in baseball. For instance, and I’m sorry to Cleveland for once again going back to the Browns, there’s essentially a zero-percent chance that they could go into Foxboro and get a win against the Patriots. However, the Minnesota Twins, who had the worst record in baseball this season with only 59 wins, can go into Cleveland and take three out of four games (this actually happened in early August) from the Indians at any time. That’s just how baseball works. There’s a reason that MLB hasn’t had a repeat champion in nearly two decades. It’s really hard to win the World Series and while it was going to be very difficult for the Cubs to win three games against a very good baseball team, it was still possible. But that Cubs fan feeling was still there. But then they won Game 5 and hope began to build. And then they won Game 6 and let’s get real. For the Cubs to win the World Series, there had to be the drama of a do-or-die Game 7. It just wouldn’t have felt right any other way.

So the Cubs jump out to an early lead in Game 7 and we’re feeling pretty good. Then the Indians tie it up. Then the Cubs take a four-run lead after two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Cleveland gets two in the bottom of the fifth but the Cubs get another run in the sixth and take that three-run lead into the eighth. But then that old-fashioned feeling comes roaring back when Aroldis Chapman gives up that home run to Rajai Davis to tie the game at 6-6. All the momentum is with the Indians at this point and you just couldn’t help but think that any chance the Cubs had to win was gone. And for those who are yelling at me through your screen that I’m supposed to stay positive and believe and such, just save it. You know that even if just for a split second that you were thinking the same thing. And just for a little added drama, the game goes to extra innings….and we have to wait out a rain delay for the finish. Are you kidding me?

Now, I’m in a bar for this entire thing. I work at a local tavern a couple of nights per week for some extra cash and I’m just a wreck. I told myself all day not to get too worked up about this game but as the start time drew closer, I just couldn’t stop pacing behind the bar and I was as active as could be during this entire thing. Everyone in the place was so focused on the game and it was a very cool environment to be in charge of. I’m usually a pretty reserved guy during sporting events. I usually don’t allow myself to get that worked up on something I have no control over but I was trying to keep everyone involved that night. I was the guy running down the line giving high fives after a big hit or a big strikeout and just doing that whole thing. So after the rain delay is over and the Cubs come out and get two runs, I’m going absolutely insane. But then that feeling crept back in for a moment when the Indians scored in the bottom of the tenth. As Michael Martinez stepped to the plate, I was terrified on what could happen. But I’ve been very impressed with Michael Montgomery in these playoffs but the little dribbler that came off of the bat of Martinez looked like a hit if I’m being honest here. It seemed like one of those balls that just wouldn’t be gotten to in time but then Kris Bryant came flying into the screen and hit Anthony Rizzo with a perfect throw and I’ve got no problem admitting that things got a little emotional.

I didn’t even see the big pile on the infield until later. As soon as Rizzo caught the ball and stuffed it into his pocket, I was out the back door and into the alley. There was no yelling. There was no jumping for joy. There was me, dressed in jeans, a backwards Cubs hat, a blue Cubs jersey with a “1908 World Champions” shirt that I had made into a “2016 World Champions” shirt by using a little bit of blue painters tape at about 4:00 that afternoon that nobody saw until I went back inside, doubled over with my hands over my face and crying….over a baseball game.

But it just wasn’t one baseball game to Cubs fans, was it? Just like it wasn’t just one baseball game for Red Sox fans in 2004. Or White Sox fans in 2005. It was realizing that the first team I ever loved just did something that they hadn’t done in 108 years. Is it any more special than any three of the titles that the Giants have won recently? Or any of the 27 titles that the Yankees have won? Or any of the 11 that the Cardinals have won? No…not to them. But it is for us. And whether people want to admit or not, there is something to be said for all of the stories about grandparents and parents that never got a chance to witness this that makes it that much more appealing to us. You don’t think I wasn’t thinking about those times reading the Trib with my grandfather? Or that I wasn’t thinking about how much I wish my father, who always rooted for the Cubs when the Cardinals weren’t in it, were still alive so that I could share this with him? That’s where the tears came from.

Look, sports are a huge part of my life. They’re part of what I do for a living. I get to write about a sports and collect a check for it. But with that being said, I don’t let them run my life. Do I want my teams to win? Of course I do. But I refuse to get mad when they don’t. I don’t let the outcome of a game ruin the rest of my day if it doesn’t go my way. Nor do I throw the result in someone else’s face if it does. I know plenty of people like that and it’s just absolutely ridiculous. I don’t get into sports arguments. I get into sports discussions, where people actually listen, and those are much more rewarding. Just looking at social media since Wednesday is somewhat hilarious. The “1 year of success doesn’t erase 108 years of failure” posts and people that just refuse to let Cubs fans enjoy this is actually somewhat comical. Is your life that empty where you just have to try and make everyone as miserable as you? And just to even things out a bit, there are plenty of Cubs fans that have posted things that I don’t like and I’m never one to say that Cubs fans are the best fans in the world. Every fan base things that theirs is the best and that’s the way it should be. It’s just that Cubs fans have had to be more patient. As far as being a sports fan, I’ve now been lucky enough to watch every single team that I root for win at least one championship. But like every other title win I’ve watched before, this World Series win from the Cubs doesn’t really change anything that “matters”, does it?

Watching the Cubs win the World Series didn’t make my bills magically disappear. It didn’t change the fact that I still have to wake up and work every day. It didn’t change the fact that I deal with a consistent number of problems on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. But what this run has done has allowed me to do is watch a Cubs World Series game with my children, something my father never got to do. What this has done is bring a community of people together, which is something that happens in sports every day that so often gets overlooked. What this has done is allowed me to take myself back to a simpler time, a time when I was that kid with a ball, a bat and a glove dressed in number 8 Andre Dawson Cubs jersey that wanted nothing more out of life than to watch the Cubs win the World Series. It allowed millions of Cubs fans around the world to take a quick break from their lives and be a part of something special, something that so many other fan bases have gotten to do while we waited patiently for our turn. For a split second, all of the failed attempts over the past 108 years didn’t matter because they got the last one right. And that’s a feeling that the players can hang on to until the spring when they and 29 other teams and all 30 fan bases have to start all over again. No, the Cubs winning the World Series doesn’t really change anything in the grand scheme of things. But for one night, we were able to take a break and witness something we’ve never seen before. And while it may be just a game, it’s so much more than that to so many people. It’s our childhood. It’s something we shared with those that are no longer with us. It’s something that taught us about winning and losing. It’s a game that’s so simple on the surface while so unbelievably complex at its core. And it’s a game that for one night brought a brief moment of pure joy to millions of people around the world.

What’s not romantic about that?

My Latest Podcast: Review of Creed, Kobe Bryant Retirement, and More

bingesportscastMy latest podcast is ready to go at Binge Media and for this week’s episode of the Binge SportsCast, I’m joined by Binge Movie Aftertaste host, Garrett Collins. Garrett doesn’t pretend to be the biggest sports guy in the world, but after our three-episode series on the Rocky franchise (you can get the links by going to the Podcasts page), I decided to have him on my show to finish up our talk as we give a full review of the latest installment in the series, Creed. THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS SHOW!!! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I urge you not to listen until you do. We start talking about it around the 34:00 mark, so consider yourself warned.

However, before we get to the flick, I do actually talk some sports, seeing as it’s a sports show and all, by talking about the story that hit me the most this week, that being the announcement that Kobe Bryant is retiring. I’ve got a lot to say on that, but I also hit on the remarkable 19-0 start by the Golden State Warriors. Just before getting to the review, I also comment on the Fury-Klitschko fight that took place over the weekend and give some quick thoughts on the heavyweight division and what needs to happen. This was a fun show and I certainly hope you get the chance to get around to it. Enjoy.

Binge SportsCast: Kobe Bryant Retirement, Warriors 19-0 Start, & A Full Creed Review w/ Garrett Collins (SPOILERS!!!)

 

My Response to Michael Wilbon’s Rant Against Bloggers

If you know me, and I think a lot of you do by now, you know that I’m normally not one for confrontation in my writing. There’s a reason why I don’t write a lot of political pieces and I tend to stay neutral on a lot of controversial topics. I like to entertain when I can. I write a lot on sports because it’s something I enjoy, so when I hear somebody like ESPN’s Michael Wilbon say the things he said recently about people like me, I wasn’t going to just let it go. After clearing it with my editor at Sports Mockery, one of the many websites I write on sports for, I wrote my response and I personally invite you to check it out. I will warn you that it’s a little lengthy, but believe me, it needed to be. I’ve got your “mother’s basement” right here, Mike.

Michael Wilbon Wants To Call Out Bloggers? Here I Am

My Gig at Sports Mockery

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Over the past week, I’ve been updating both of my websites, including discussing the website I created for a local award-winning author, which you can read HERE, and adding a new podcast page to this site, which you can read about HERE, but this is a topic I’ve been meaning to get to for a while as well, and since I’m battling the flu and all of the original content I attempted to create today was absolute trash, I figured this is the perfect time to fill you in on one of my latest writing gigs.

Just short of four weeks ago, I accepted a position as a writer for a great website out of Chicago called Sports Mockery. If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook or follow the LukeNorris.net page, you’ve undoubtedly run into the work that I’ve been doing for this site in my first month. If you haven’t seen any of it yet, I invite you to join the 113,022 other people that have read my work over the past four weeks, at least that’s what the number was about an hour ago.

As you can see from the screenshot at the top of this post, Sports Mockery is Chicago-based in nature, focusing in on the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, and Fire. I’m working with some very talented and creative people here, and what’s great is that we all help one another. Ideas are thrown around a private chat room, we claim what we want as long as we can get it done in a timely manner, or come up with an idea we think would entertain people, and we go to work, and I must say that I’m digging it thus far. The guys that run the site have been nothing but helpful in getting me started and helping me out with the formatting, and I was a fan of the site before I started working there, so I highly recommend that if you’re into Chicago sports that you check them out at www.sportsmockery.com. You can also download their app on iTunes or for your Android devicefollow them on Twitter (@sportsmockery) and “like” the Facebook page. A lot of the articles are funny, some are shocking, and some are done in a journalistic style, which makes for a great mix of Chicago sports news and rumors, which just happens to be their tagline. See how I just slid that right in there. But seriously, I’m having a blast working with these guys so far, and I look forward to getting some more great content out there soon.

If you’re looking for my work at Sports Mockery, you can go to my personal page on the site HERE, and for all the latest updates about what I’m doing, continue to check back with this site, follow me on Twitter (@THElukenorris), “like” my page on Facebook, and check out every single piece of work I’ve ever done at LukeNorris.net. As always, I thank you for your continued support and I’ll be checking back in soon.

 

Jordan Spieth Makes History & Everything You Need for the Final Week of the MLB Season

I had a busy Sunday night, writing articles on two of my favorite sports in the world.

This first article discusses Sunday’s PGA TOUR Championship, as Jordan Spieth became the youngest to ever win this particular tournament. Not only did he take that title, he won the FedExCup, got back to number one in the world rankings, and set some records in the process. Check out the day he had and take a look back at a season for the ages by clicking on the link below.

Jordan Spieth Claims TOUR Championship, Reclaims World Number 1, Wins FedExCup; 2014-15 PGA Tour Season Recap

As soon as I finished that up, I got right back to work to prepare for the final week of the Major League Baseball regular season. There’s only two divisions that have been decided, but even those teams can’t rest as they’re fighting for seeding. The article below contains breakdowns for every division and both wild card races, including magic numbers, schedules for each and every contender, and much more. Have a look.

Everything You Need to Know About the Final Week of the Major League Baseball Regular Season