How Fairy Tales Really End

I walked down College Hill with my roommate for the last time this season. I don’t know when or if I’ll make that walk again. “It wasn’t supposed to end that way,” I said.

Minutes later I began a quiet drive around town for a fast-food place that wasn’t flooded with people which turned into an hour-long escapade anyways.  I ordered a Big Mac combo with a sweet tea. I punched my straw in my drink and had a sip of Coke. That wasn’t what it should have been.


I had the pleasure of walking out onto the field with others from my senior class to form a tunnel the players would run out to after halftime. My adrenaline was boosting. I dished out dozens of high-fives including one to NCAA Record-Holder Justin Hardy. On my way off the field I grabbed a handful of purple grass from the end zone because it seemed important to me.

It was already a special game. I took in everything for the last time. I appreciated things other than the score. I was satisfied although it looked like UCF was going to run away with it. The Pirates refused to let that happen, though.

Justin Hardy caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from fellow senior Shane Carden with 2:17 remaining. There was no better-scripted ending than that. That’s how it needed to happen.

With 10 seconds remaining in the game, I left my seat to go sing the Alma Mater with the players like we do after every game, win or lose. I was standing in the stands just behind the left cornerucf game of the end zone. The ball was launched towards my corner. I could have made a play on that ball. It soared over 3 ECU defenders and into the hands of a Knight. I could hear the ball touch his hands.

The UCF bench cleared and dog-piled mere feet in front of me.

I never got to sing the Alma Mater on Senior Night.

What happened on the field was no longer in anyone’s control. The game was over and everybody was pissed. Fans stood in the freezing stadium and cheered until they lost their voices when the team was twenty points down. Those fans didn’t walk out on the players when things weren’t going well. Those fans didn’t deserve to have the players walk out. If I’m mad about anything, that’s it.


I watch sports because it’s the only way for me to experience and feel certain things. Outside of sports, I primarily feel only happiness and anger. I’m numb to all other feelings outside of extreme circumstances.

I write to sort out these feelings. If you want to know why I post on this blog so rarely I have your answer. It’s because I only write when I have these rare feelings. I blurt thoughts out onto a word document for a few hours while it’s all fresh. The next day I’ll do light editing and post it. If on that second day I feel like I have to change a lot, I scrap the whole thing. I do this because it wouldn’t be real after a certain point. The brunt of these words are coming at 1 a.m. because otherwise they would never be read.


In this particular block of 3 and ½ hours I felt anxious and nervous. I felt defeat, elation, and finally sadness in about that order. I emotionally got my ass beat. It sucked, but it made me feel human.

I was sad. Not only for the loss, but because of how it happened. We weren’t supposed to be in the game, but the team clawed and scratched its way back. Days ago I said this:

“ECU Football was ferocious as the “underdog” in those games. At times they appeared unstoppable. They played like a pride of pissed-off lions. The fans cheered like everything mattered in those moments.”

“A seemingly different team emerged from the inflatable skull after [the win against Carolina]. There wasn’t the same intensity when we played SMU or Temple. We’re slowly regaining that mojo as we come crashing back down to reality.”

The team I saw in the fourth quarter was the team I was talking about. That’s the team that was ranked in the top 20. That’s the team we were all proud of and still should be. It just didn’t end the way it was supposed to.

Posted by Brandon Alandt

Sailing Away at the End of a (Nearly) Perfect Day

I’m quickly approaching a point in my life that has always seemed so far away. In 5 months I’ll graduate from East Carolina University and begin writing the next chapter of my life. Vast changes will be made. New values will sprout and others will rot and eventually die. I rediscovered a song that applies perfectly to my life in these coming months. Being a Pirate, the metaphor is even more suitable.

“I’m sailing away. Set an open course for the virgin sea.
I’ve got to be free, free to face the life that’s ahead of me.
On board I’m the captain so climb aboard.
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore,
And I’ll try. Oh Lord, I’ll try to carry on.

I look to the sea. Reflections in the waves spark my memory.
Some happy, some sad.
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had.
We live happily forever, so the story goes,
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold.
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on.”

-Styx; “Come Sail Away”

On Thursday I will attend my last football game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as an ECU student. With that comes an unfortunate surge of nostalgia. I wrote about my passion for ECU Football at the beginning of the season. If you haven’t read that yet, go do that now. I still have the same feelings as I did then. I do, however, have a little different perspective now.


The sun had just set. The game was over, but 8 minutes were left on the clock. The stadium was still at capacity. 50,000 fans chanted “We Want Seventy” moments before backup quarterback Kurt Benkert ran the ball in for the final score against Carolina.

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium erupted in such a way that in any other context it would have probably been a joke, but it was genuine.

Everybody hugged everybody and I almost shed a tear. The ball was spiked with such force that I was stunned that it didn’t stick into the earth. To me, that scene encompassed everything ECU embodies. There’s many memorable moments from my time as an ECU student, but that is one that will always stick out to me. I started to write a post for this blog immediately following that game but couldn’t find the words.


I said in early August that I wouldn’t be surprised if ECU went 3-1 to start the season. I’ve watched every game since I arrived as a transfer student and I knew the potential this team had. I knew a top-10 passing attack was in place along with a tenacious defense. The team still had everything to prove, though, and all of those things were displayed against the teams we weren’t supposed to beat. ECU Football was ferocious as the “underdog” in those games. At times they appeared unstoppable. They played like a pride of pissed-off lions. The fans cheered like everything mattered in those moments.

Being in the same half of the state as UNC, Duke, and even NCSU, ECU is often an afterthought beyond just athletics. The Pirates have played the role of the underdog forever, and pretty damn well I might add. What separates ECU from, say, NC State is that ECU has embraced its role in the landscape of college athletics in North Carolina. Everyone here has a chip on their shoulder all for different reasons.

Something happened this season that was horrifying while unfolding, but beautiful in retrospect. ECU Football became something that it was not, and in that solidified its identity.

After the UNC game ECU became the team others circled on their schedules. We would be the heavy favorites and get everyone’s best shots from then on. A bye-week followed the blowout against Carolina, and a seemingly different team emerged from the inflatable skull after that. There wasn’t the same intensity when we played SMU or Temple. We’re slowly regaining that mojo as we come crashing back down to reality.

The team was forced by media and fan hype to abandon their previous identity and I don’t think they were ready for that. We thrive as the underdogs. I don’t say “we” meaning the football team, but our school as one collective entity.

For a vast majority of the people who comprise it, ECU wasn’t their original “dream school.” There is a general negative perception about this University. Outsiders view us as barbaric party animals. They aren’t that far off. I mean, we did have a drunken riot that one time. What I have witnessed from this student body in the three years I have been here extends beyond that in a way that I can’t explain.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this season even if you didn’t watch a single down of football. We as students should go about everything we do with a chip on our shoulders. We should remain humble yet ferocious with every step we take, even if we have no idea where we’re going. We should not let this underdog mentality hinder us, but strengthen and motivate us.


Looking back on it all, football seasons have provided me with some of the best memories not just from college, but from my entire life. I’m going to miss seeing pirate flags flying in the student tailgate lot. I’m going to miss the road beers on walks up College Hill to the stadium. I’m going to miss belting out the lyrics to “Livin’ on a Prayer” after the music cuts off. I’m going to miss standing in Section 23 every game.

It’s strange how simple it is for me to relate something seemingly so trivial to the broadness of life, but it’s real. I can honestly say that I have deeply-rooted values that exist because of how easy it is for me to love my school. I reluctantly transferred here after all of my other options ran out and it quickly became apparent that it was going to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was the best choice. Every single day endorses that. Thank you, ECU. For everything.

Posted by Brandon Alandt

Just Like Lego’s

Posted by Brandon Alandt

I’ve never been in love the way the movies portray it, but I’ve been in love. I’ve felt butterflies in anticipation. I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve had moments of pure elation. This isn’t a boy-meets-girl story; this is a boy-meets-sport story.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
― Douglas Adams

A very unpredictable series of events happened in my life starting when I was nine years old. I moved to the basketball capital of the world which initiated a slow yet massive cascade that eventually led me to be – wait for it – a hockey fan.


 

I recently re-watched the series-clinching game 5 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals between the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings. I’ve seen it before. If forever reason you put a gun to my head and told me to give you a play-by-play of the game I probably could, although I didn’t watch it live outside of maybe a few occasional  glimpses at the TV. I was probably playing with Lego’s, but during that time my hockey fandom was conceived.


 

My family that had been living in our North Carolina suburb for a year when the series started. As Wings fans, were deep behind enemy lines. My dad’s family resides just outside of the Motor City. Somewhere around the archives of my parents’ house there are pictures of me as an infant in Red Wings apparel. To this day I’m thankful it wasn’t the Lions. So incredibly thankful.

The moments I watched I noticed the two goaltenders, Dominik Hasek and Arturs Irbe. They were diving all over the place keeping the puck out of their respective nets in incredible fashion. They looked like warriors in their massive pads, and they’re why I began to fall in love with the sport and why this blog even exists.


There is just under four minutes left in the game. The score is 2-1 in favor of the Red Wings. This is twelve years later, and my heart is still racing. I knew the outcome. Right now I’m more than twice my age at the time this game was being played, but it’s still so damn exhilarating to me. With 45 seconds left the crowd at Joe Louis Arena erupts as Brendan Shanahan tucks the puck into an empty goal from center ice. He immediately gets a tackling embrace from my all-time sports hero Steve Yzerman. Game over. Anxiety is replaced by Goosebumps. It happens every single time. It’s not often you get that kind of exhilaration, but it’s because of those moments you continue being a fan. It’s why you continue to be in love.


As years passed I found myself in a growing obsession. I would always grab a newspaper during my school’s “Drop Everything and Read” period every day to check box scores and statistics from the night before. I was a 13-year-old boy who wasn’t staying up until 1 a.m. talking on the phone, but watching games being played on the west coast. I would wake up only four hours later to get ready for school, and it was all worth it to me.

It’s easy to see in hindsight where our lives start to stray away from course they once appeared to be taking, but as it plays out, life is really all just a series of insignificant moments that eventually turn out to be something completely significant. Just like Lego’s.

Our Own Little Pirate Nation: An Ode to College Football

Posted by Brandon Alandt

I was a fresh face on my school’s campus in January, 2012. Upon transferring from another university across the state I was longing for a vintage college experience. I wondered where the fun and exciting part of college was. I wanted a home away from home. I wanted a family aside from my family. I pessimistically didn’t expect either of those, however. Enter East Carolina University.

ecu tunnel

When my first fall semester rolled around 8 months later a lot of things were different for me. The weather was warmer and I knew a lot more people. I was fairly familiar with my school and the surrounding area.  I woke up regularly to the sound of the Marching Pirates rehearsing the fight song and that didn’t even irritate me. In general, I had already grown to like the town I had crash-landed in. What I didn’t understand at the time was that I didn’t completely comprehend the whole culture I was being assimilated into. Then a few weeks later I experienced my first college football game as a student, and a wave of clarity overtook me.

I didn’t know my peers who often slept through 8am classes would enthusiastically and emphatically drink beer in a parking lot at that same hour. I didn’t know there wasn’t a division between groups of people and organizations on these days. I didn’t even know I could have fun losing at cornhole. I didn’t know I could tolerate scorching hot weather for an entire day, either.

As a lifelong sports fanatic, I still didn’t understand the capacity for a game that’s played once a week to bring people together. I always looked forward to the experience, but I was stunned by how much better it was in person. It didn’t matter who you were; when you walk into the stadium wearing the appropriate colors, you become part of something where you aren’t alone.

You become a member of a family. A family of children, students, and alumni who are mostly strangers. You become part of a tradition. You scream your lungs out to the same chants and cheers week after week and it never gets old. On Saturdays we actually become our own little Pirate Nation.

Come Saturday I’ll be standing in my usual spot several rows up in the corner of the end zone in the student section. I’ll be at the stadium an hour early to watch the band perform and for all of the pregame festivities. I’ll have butterflies in the pit of my stomach due to the anticipation that causes me to be unable to stand still. I’ll be yelling and clapping until my throat and hands get sore, and then I’ll yell some more. I’ll be doing this every Saturday I get the privilege of seeing the team emerge out of an inflatable skull in the midst of a purple haze.

If anything, the whole experience gets more exciting as the years pass. I didn’t understand all of this at first, but I think I do now. The spirit and pride I feel for my school is something special and it’s something that I’ll take with me to my grave. I found my home and my family, and it’s all here at East Carolina University. Go Pirates.

 

Robot Dinosaurs and Action Figures

Posted by Brandon Alandt

Some of my cloudiest early memories were of me standing in front of my preschool and kindergarten classmates declaring that I wanted to be a Power Ranger. I was so obsessed with these fictional heroes that I did that on two separate occasions. I had onesie pajamas that resembled the red ranger that I wore even when I outgrew them. I remember my younger brother (always the green ranger) and I running around my parents’ house and backyard pulverizing each other. We called it a game and my mom hated it. I can’t recall anything from the show other than that I think they had to battle a giant robot dinosaur once, but for a while all I wanted to be was one of them.red ranger

One of the most horrifying days of my childhood was when a leg to one of my many Power Ranger action figures (All of them red, of course) snapped off. My mom glued it back together and I became less aggressive when crime-fighting; a little less self-destructive in a way. The plastic doll never returned to the perfect condition that it was in prior to that moment.


Moments after I arrived home from work on Friday night my roommate showed me a slow-motion video of Paul George’s leg exploding during a Team USA Exhibition with little forewarning. My stomach twisted like a pretzel and I felt a subtle pain in my shin. It was the worst sports injury I’ve seen since Kevin Ware during the NCAA Tournament in 2013. George will be sidelined the entire 2014-2015 season and will return after the start of the 2015-2016 season at the earliest. We may not see the superstar he recently blossomed into ever again. He also might not skip a beat. Leg injuries are unpredictable like that from what I’ve seen. I never took Anatomy 1000, so what do I know?

PGDW

After nearly a year of experiencing side-effects from a neck injury that occurred last season, David Wilson of the New York Giants was advised by multiple doctors to quit playing football. The 23 year-old’s career as a football player is over just before his third NFL season, and at no fault of his own.


In each of their respective cases, WIlson and George became plastic versions of themselves. For the foreseeable future their opponent isn’t on the opposite end of the court or field, but themselves. The thing about fragility is that the only way it can be tested is to see when an object finally breaks. Both of them are extraordinarily gifted athletes that simply fell victim to circumstance and realized how fragile they are.

Lebron James: Waking Up

Posted by Brandon Alandt

I was an eleven year-old boy when I was finally woken up from my dream of being a baseball star. I had visions of playing short stop for the Yankees. I wasn’t particularly fond of The Pinstripes although I lived in a rural town in New York until the day after I completed the third grade. I saw it as the pinnacle of baseball; I wanted to be Derek Jeter. For hours each day I would throw a ball up to the roof of my garage and wait for it to roll down, falling gently into my tiny glove. I would place myself in situations – often alone – like many kids do.

Bottom of the ninth. Down by three. Two outs. Bases loaded. Full count.

I would always triumph in those situations, but that was still as close as I would ever get to Yankee Stadium. Growing up often means giving up as time catches up with us.


Four years ago I watched ESPN and Lebron James air “The Decision”. A day later I watched Lebron and his two new best friends emerge from a cloud of smoke, sit high on their wooden stools as if they were thrones, and declare to a stadium full of screaming fans who were there to see them, that they were there to win “not two, not three … not seven [championships].” The fans that packed the arena loved it. Everyone else was left dumbfounded by the arrogance.

Lebron had his eyes set on a number of titles that would make him undoubtedly the greatest basketball player of all time. This was his dream. It seemed possible to a lot of people, too.

bron

Dreams are like that. For a moment anything can happen. Infinity becomes completely finite. Then your neighbor starts mowing their lawn at 7am and everything is exactly the same as you left it before you went to sleep. For Lebron and his crew, the San Antonio Spurs were their noisy neighbor, but in this case everything was different.

Lebron woke up four years later in his hometown. He had one hell of a dream. In his four year slumber he won two championships and played on the most feared team during that time. In all fairness, it was magnificent, but it wasn’t what he wanted. He nor his team were the indestructible machine they acted as. He woke up and decided it wasn’t worth rolling over and dozing off for any longer.

Even if Lebron and The Heat continued at the same pace without the NBA landscape changing, he still wouldn’t reach his absurd goal until age 40.

bronbron

I want to rip into a guy like Lebron so badly for “The Decision” and whatever you want to call the parade following it. Disregarding the way he’s handled his moves, they’ve made sense and he’s made them for reasons other than money.

Maybe he’ll win a handful of championships in Cleveland. Maybe he’ll be a Free Agent again in another year or two because of the way his contract is structured. The team has more talent now than it ever did in Lebron’s previous stint. They also have the NBA’s version of Jerry Jones in Dan Giblert as well as a head coach who lacks any NBA experience. All things considered, I don’t think he’ll see the same amount of success in Cleveland as he did in Miami, and it won’t be his fault.

Lebron is returning home a different man than he was four years ago. He grew up in Miami. He was humbled after getting lambasted in this year’s NBA finals. The move back to Cleveland looks a lot like he’s given up. When all is said and done he will still be remembered as one of the greatest, but he’ll have more company than he originally set out to have.

Lebron James chased his dream. He chased it until his legs got sore. He left his hometown in the process and pissed a lot of people off along the way. He’ll probably never make his absurd dream a reality, but dammit he tried, and after all isn’t that what dreams are about?