I'll never forget the first game I covered after moving back home to Cincinnati leaving my job covering UGA in Georgia. The Bearcats football team had been on quite a run. Even from afar on the other side of college football buried beneath eight layers of crazy inside the SEC I knew this fact.
But Game 1, Day 1 for me working for CNati.com (thanks again, CTR) came on Dec. 5, 2009: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh.
I sat in the press box at Heinz Field and knew the stakes. I knew the players. I knew the coaches. I knew the brisket buffet was delectable.
But looking back, I didn't quite understand. I didn't understand the fan base, the love of this place, the blue-collar, underdog persona of a program reflecting its city.
Then Tony Pike to Armon Binns happened.
That moment and the ripple effect of the following years began my education of the University of Cincinnati. Sure, I grew up in Cincinnati and even followed UC basketball as a young kid, but from the unbiased adult journalist side didn't quite understand the dynamic at play here.
As I look at the number next to "On The Bearcats Beat" on the right side of this page it's apparent 1,045 times, I attempted to disseminate what I was learning about this place and its programs. Sometimes the message came across coherently, other times in overwhelming charts still red flagged and studied for clarification by NASA. Occasionally, even I didn't know what I was trying to tell you.
But I think the broad brush statement of the tens of thousands of words, hundreds of videos, charts, gifs and the one awkward cat photo, was that there's a unique combination of tradition, community and progress at play in Clifton right now.
I've always loved this city and this University is a proud reflection of it. That will never change and will always mean something bigger than any coach, player, athletic director.
I'm moving on to cover the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer, working for the hometown newspaper has been my dream job since I was memorizing the stats of the 1992 Final Four team as a 12-year-old kid in Mason. That means I have to leave GoBearcats.com, a place that has allowed me to create a base and write regularly for the past four-plus years.
I couldn't be more thankful to everyone that commented, emailed, interacted on Twitter or chatted face to face. Except @walkjrw -- thank goodness for the block button.
But before I move on to The Enquirer, it only seems right to go out with one final trip to the griddle. One last Bearcats Breakfast.
Let's eat ...
--- I'll start off with the best thing this athletics program has going for it these days: Mick Cronin. I've written time and again about the job he's done. From stating how unfathomable it was to rebuild the program from one scholarship player to the middle of the toughest conference in basketball by 2010 to going off on how rare this type of loyalty and talent were in today's college hoops.
Time to do so one more time.
At the beginning of this season, Gary Parrish took a poll of the coaches under 45 most likely to make the Hall of Fame. Here's the list.
|Shaka Smart, VCU||131-44||74.8%|
|Brad Stevens, Celtics||166-49||77.2%|
|Sean Miller, Arizona||242-91||72.6%|
|Buzz Williams, Marquette||152-82||65.0%|
|Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State||84-44||65.6%|
OK, Mick Cronin: 228-128 -- 64.0%
Fair enough that he wouldn't reach that list if you look at those numbers, but consider he reached 64 percent wins at Murray State and building a program from scratch in the Big East.
If you take away just the first three years (2006-09) as he fought an uphill battle to emerge from decimation of the program, the numbers tell a different story.
He's at 186-76 -- 71.0%.
Now, take a deeper look at the coaches on that list. How many of those you think are as dedicated to staying at their current school as Mick? Any? Heck, one of them is on the assumption Stevens will eventually return back to college. Miller might be the only one I actually believe could stay for a career at the current place.
I'm not saying Mick will make the HOF. That's irrelevant here. I'm saying fans need to understand what they have.
Cronin pledges his desire to stay at Cincinnati every year. Over and over and over again. That's as rare a combination as you will find in the sport today.
The contingent of anti-Mick, pro-Huggs people gradually eroded since I joined the beat and I'm convinced the small fraction that still yells will be there forever. The fact they are holding on to that rather than embracing the electric, fun-to-watch players their "school" brought in means they probably never belonged under the "fan" classification anyway.
Mick and everyone inside UC sounded more optimistic this year about a solution to the arena issue than I've ever heard. And with the city beginning to address the US Bank Arena issue, a light flickers at the end of the tunnel.
I know this, for what Mick accomplished at UC he deserves the support -- both financially and verbally -- of everyone whose stepped foot into Fifth Third Arena for a men's basketball game. He saved a program and returned it to heights as relevant as ever. Look around, folks, you have something special going on here.
--- Mick will probably be there when The Sammi Cronin Show isn't just a gag on the Bearcats Sports Weekly Show with Tommy G, he could still be there when she is legitimately running the show. Of course, that could be sooner than later. Sorry, TG, she's good.
--- Speaking of TG, maybe one of the best things UC has going for them is Tom Gelehrter, Director of New Media and Broadcasting. The episodes of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast we churned out were among some of the most fun times I've had on the beat. And sometimes we even talked about UC sports.
Other times, we talked about cookie attendants, self-tweeting baby pics, the Harlem Shake, bedazzled mics, taking a trip to Sweden for Midsummer and, of course, Fred Savage.
Maybe the greatest side-creation of the podcast was the intricate renderings of Assistant Director of Creative Services and Multimedia Shane Harrison. As we talked about who knows what that shifted us off topic, we'd see him rapidly working the photoshops to fit our faces into the topic of the day. Magical. And I had to eventually eliminate his access to my Facebook photos. To this day, the stuff of genius.
--- This will be the point in the program where I spend time thanking everyone that helped me during my time at UC. I know some of you will scroll past it. Go ahead, this has to be done. The sports information/PR department is in great hands with Ryan Koslen and his entire staff there. Of course, I never would have known any of them if not for Jeremy Martin believing in the idea of true analysis on a web site. He's in a much better place now (no, not there, he's alive -- allegedly) and deservedly so.
From Whit Babcock to Desiree Reed-Francois and all the coaches who humored me thoroughly through dumb questions and typically absurd story angles, can't help but say thanks for everything.
Also big shout outs to Brad Wurthman, Jaime Juenger, Andre Foushee, Katie Botsis, everyone else in the SID office and, of course, Equipment Manager/Motivational Speaker/Dap Giver/Ladies Man Skippy.
--- When I first arrived at UC and was attempting to prove myself among writers/media members I didn't know, I received an email after a few of my earliest stories. It was from Dan Hoard. He said he enjoyed what I was doing and if I ever needed anything to not hesitate to ask. I never forgot that. In the position I was in, that meant the world to me. Then I proceeded to make him regret the offer as I leaned on him over and over again for help.
I owe a ton to Dan and am jacked I get to keep working around him on the Bengals beat.
--- My favorite story in all my time there came after meeting former UC swimmer Nate Kramer. At the time I chatted with him he was fighting a battle with cancer still on the uphill end. The UC athletics community was rallying behind him and helping keep him going. Here's that story I was lucky enough to be able to tell.
I'm happier to report that of the last post from his family earlier this month, Nate is doing great almost two years since his brother underwent a bone marrow transplant to keep Nate alive. Amazing. And inspiring.
--- Maybe my favorite game that I covered wasn't one UC fans will want to remember in the scorebook, but for those who sat in the now (thankfully) torn down Nippert Stadium press box they will never forget the 2010 season finale against Pitt.
Snow poured down that day and covered the field. Playing the game was a challenge and keeping the yard lines clear was even harder. But, right before halftime an interesting comment popped up in my Twitter feed -- the police just took away the Bearcats mascot in handcuffs. Had to be a joke, I thought. Not the first time Twitter broke a comical lie. Then came another tweet. And another. And then, the video. For a man who loves mascots being placed in real world situations, this was the dream scenario -- the video.
Ryan Koslen had to stand up in the press box and actually make this announcement: "The mascot has been detained, the backup mascot is now in the game."
Maybe the greatest line uttered in any press box.
--- Randomness ....
--- Thank you, Ryan Quinn. Thank you. Baseball jousting, still the best in my book.
--- I could have talked to Marcus Barnett about his tattoos all day. To be fair, I would have needed all day consider he had 87 of them.
--- Maybe the most underrated watershed win during my time at UC was the 22-point beatdown of Georgetown to close 2011. When the fans seemed to finally embrace the Bearcats again.
--- Recording a podcast at Montgomery Inn and introducing the Ballin' Is A Habit guys to great ribs was fantastic. Anytime a server can make a legitimately engaging cameo, it's a great pod.
--- George Winn didn't say much, but his emergence might have been one of my favorite storylines. Plus, he did this.
--- Still don't know how Cashmere Wright got that shot off. Best single play I saw on the beat.
--- The 2011-2012 UC basketball team. What a fun run.
--- Usually in this spot I'd throw some silly Interwebbing viral video, some witty (at least in my mind) comment. Instead, for the last one, which feels a bit like an encore, I thought about the best encore songs I've ever seen. I narrowly estimate Pearl Jam, over Outkast and Phish, was my most highly embedded musical act, I could have gone with something from them. Baba O'Riley? SpottieOttieDopealicious? Tweezer Reprise? End of the Road by Boyz II Men? All lovely.
But nothing gets across my message like Monty Python.
Thanks for reading everybody. Trust me, when I say it's impossible that you enjoyed this more than I did.