Excitement runs high during the NFL playoffs. We’ve been spoiled. Rooting for the “hometown” New England Patriots has been a ritual around here this time of year.
Not this season. The Pats are out in the cold and so is the region’s other favorite team, the New York Giants.
There are also a ton of New York Jets fans in the area. Many of those of a certain age caught the fever when Joe Namath was leading them to that Super Bowl victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1969.
But the Jets are also not in on the playoff party.
The Giants have a loyal following. There were no Patriots when some of us older folks began following the NFL. The Giants were all we had and we loved them. Then, of course, there was that Vermont connection when they held training camp at St. Michael’s College.
There are some Buffalo Bills fans around. They are fortunate to have their team alive.
But a lot of Vermonters need a reason to attach themselves to a team that is still on the playoff landscape.
Most thought we would still have the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their local connection is pretty well known. Former Mount Anthony Union High School head football coach Dan Laughlin is on the Rooney family tree.
Dan’s mother Margaret Rooney was one of Art Rooney’s sisters. The late Art Rooney, one of the most beloved owners the NFL has ever had.
He loved his team and had numerous chances to move them out of Pittsburgh. But, above all, he loved his city.
Long before Dan Laughlin coached Mount Anthony, he grew up playing sports daily with the Rooney family.
“We played hockey in the Rooney’s backyard as well as tackle football,” Dan told me in 2009 when we talking about the upcoming Super Bowl.
But the Steelers are out of the playoffs courtesy of that stunning win by the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night.
Aha, the Browns. That’s the team we can hitch our allegiance to during this countdown to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.
A connection? Jim Donovan, the longtime radio voice of the Cleveland Browns.
Donovan has held that job since 1999 and has been a Cleveland media personality for 36 years.
One of the early lines on Donovan’s resume was as the play-by-play voice of the Eastern League’s Vermont Reds, a AA affiliate of Cincinnati.
The Reds played in Burlington from 1984-87 and Donovan did the broadcasts for one season. He also did University of Vermont men’s basketball play-by-play during his stint in Burlington.
“I had a falling out with the radio station in the early 80s and Jimmy came in and got the job. He was a good guy and very talented,” said Burlington’s George Commo who just picked up his 11th Vermont Sportscaster of the Year accolade from the National Sports Media Association.
It was in 1983 that Donovan broadcast the Division I state championship football game between Essex and Mount St. Joseph Academy at Burlington High. He and Rutland’s Jack Healey shared the microphone that day.
It was played in a driving rain.
“It was a swamp,” Healey said.
MSJ swamped Essex 28-6 in a mammoth upset. The Hornets had beaten MSJ during the season.
It was in 2018, 35 years after describing the action of the MSJ-Essex game, that Donovan was calling games during a miserable 1-15 season for the Browns.
During the broadcast when the Browns won their lone game, Donovan said to his radio audience, “Is this how it feels? Is this how it feels to win a game?”
There were many more victories in this 2020-21 season and it’s not over yet. Donovan is having fun again and it feels good.
It was back in 2011 that Donovan announced to his Cleveland fans that he was taking a leave of absence for a bone marrow transplant. He had been battling leukemia for about 10 years.
During his hiatus he received cards from all over the country. You can certain that there were more than a few from Vermont.
‘Starting at guard...’The familiar voice of Carleton Laird will still fill Glenbrook Gym.
Rutland’s Laird said he has been told that he will still be fulfilling his duties as the public address announcer at Castleton University basketball games even though there will not be any fans allowed in the gym.
When the basketball team and hockey Spartans are playing at the same time, Laird said he will likely be doing play-by-play for the live streaming of the game at either Glenbrook or Spartan Arena.
Rutland’s Jack Healey will be handling the play-by-play at the other venue.
“I told Tom Blake (the CU sports information director) that I would do anything he wants,” Laird said.
First night in N.H.
The Caledonian Record is one of those newspapers in Vermont that has a coverage area spilling over into New Hampshire.
New Hampshire high schools began playing basketball games on Monday night so CR sports editor Michael Beniash made an excursion to White Mountains Regional where the Spartans were hosting Berlin.
One of the first pandemic measures he noticed was that the game did not begin with a jump ball.
“It felt surreal,” Beniash said.
“I didn’t think there was as much energy in the gym as I thought there would be, but you could tell even behind those masks that the players were happy to be out there.”
Beniash said there were no fans and a handful of media in the gym.
His paper covers seven high schools in New Hampshire and he has not noticed a strong envy from people on the Vermont side concerning the Granite State’s earlier start.
He said that was the case during the fall when Vermonters in his area were very envious of New Hampshire soccer players not having to wear masks.
“It was eerie” Beniash said of his Monday night experience, one that Vermonters have not yet been granted.