Acadia National Park, Adirondack Mountains, basketball, Cornell, Croatan Sound, Gallatin River Valley, Gospel of John, Hail Mary pass, Hearst Castle, intramurals, Jesus, Louisiana bayous, Mackinac Bridge, miracle shot, miracles, moonset, Neil Armstrong, Outer Banks, Pacific Coast Highway, pickup game, Rocky Mountains, Telstar, Tony Taylor, Virgin River Gorge, Wrigley Field
Over my six decades of life, I have witnessed many wonderful events and scenes. Some of these were watched by me on television. The ones I remember the most were all connected with the space program, and all of them occurred in the 1960’s. I remember being in school and watching one of the first Mercury space launches while we debated whether or not the Russians had already made it into space with manned flights. At the other end of the decade, my parents, my brother and I stayed up late to watch Neil Armstrong take “a giant leap for mankind” on the moon.
In between, the television pictures were quite mundane. It was the way we were receiving them which was quite extraordinary. For the first time, television pictures were being beamed from and to locations around the world by space satellite. The satellite was named Telstar and it was one of the rare times that a major event began early. So instead of remarks by President Kennedy, I remember as if it happened yesterday instead of the summer of 1962, Tony Taylor batting for the Phillies in Wrigley Field. I also remember a picture in the newspaper the next day: someone in Italy watching live action of an American baseball game.
For these events, I was one of millions who witnessed these events on television. Other wonderful images were experienced by me alone or with one passenger. It matters not if my testimony about these experiences is believed, because they have meaning for me and most likely no one else. They were the times I drove along some of the most scenic highways in the United States. They include Acadia National Park in Maine; the Adirondack Mountains of New York; crossing Roanoke Island and Croatan Sound on U.S. 64 from the Outer Banks to the North Carolina mainland; rounding a bend and coming out of a forest on I-75 and seeing the golden towers of the Mackinac Bridge looming three miles ahead (more majestic than the Golden Gate in my opinion, which I have also seen); driving through the bayous of Louisiana on I-10, with small fishing boats in the water between the directions of traffic, houses on stilts in the swamps and power lines stretching as far as the eye could see along Lake Pontchartrain; the Gallatin River Valley on U.S. 91 along the west side of Yellowstone National Park; Virgin River Gorge on I-15 from the Utah border to Littlefield in Arizona (the most spectacular road I have ridden on by far); my list wouldn’t be complete without the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo in California (with a stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon).
From my apartment, I have a lovely view that I almost take for granted as I lived here over 28 years, nearly half my life. Looking into the woods that buffer me from nearby buildings, the sights range from the stark monochromatic beauty right after a major snow storm, to the brilliant reds and yellows of autumn that reflect the afternoon sun through my window from trees a football field away.
And one of my favorite views is the moonset over the Rocky Mountains near Pikes Peak shortly after sunrise. The picture I took of that scene is my choice for my desktop wallpaper.
At the end of June, I posted about a number of exciting moments is sports that I witnessed. Because of the length of that post, I held one back. It was one I accomplished myself. But as I describe that brief moment of accomplishment, you will see that the way I witnessed it was as unusual as the accomplishment itself.
I was a student at Cornell at the time. Quite frankly, I am not sure which year, but based on the guys I was with, it was probably freshman or sophomore year. Somehow, I got asked to go with three or four guys I knew to Teagle Gym to play some basketball. It may have been connected with the fact that my name was added to round out the roster of an intramural team that they were part of, even though I was rarely available to play because I was the head manager for the indoor track team. The must have needed a certain minimum number of players to qualify as a team. I only recall playing a few minutes in one intramural game.
But this wasn’t a scheduled game. It was just a practice session and only a handful of all the team members were available. So this time I was on the floor for the entire practice.
Between the fact I am only about 5’4” and that my general athletic skills don’t extend in that direction, basketball is one of my worst sports. My friends had to be pretty desperate to meet their roster quota to ask me to be part of the team. So it is somewhat ironic that my single most outstanding moment as an athlete came during basketball.
When we got to the gym, we found that there weren’t any courts available. But we did find one that also had only a handful of guys. So we ended up playing them in a half-court pickup game. Cornell was a pretty big school even then, so it was no surprise that we knew none of these guys. That is an important fact to keep in mind as you read the story.
There was nothing remarkable about most of the game. It was a typical pickup game between two groups of guys that found themselves on the same court at the same time. And the groups were fairly evenly matched, as I recall. We had a couple of good athletes with size, including one who was an offensive lineman for the varsity football team. I think we led for a while, then the lead see-sawed, and then they went up by a couple of baskets. That was the situation when THE play happened.
We had the ball and one of our players attempted a shot. I was over on the left side, more out on the wing than in the back court. One of their players had been guarding me, but when the shot was taken, he took a couple of steps towards the basket in anticipation of a rebound.
And as it turned out, our player missed and the ball hit the left side of the hoop and bounced far away from the basket toward the left corner, moving fairly quickly. It bounced strongly enough that it got past the player who was guarding me. Now I am the closest player to the ball, but it is heading fairly quickly toward the corner. If it goes out it will be the other team’s ball, as we were the last team to touch the ball.
The player that had been guarding me was three or four steps further away. He had recovered and reversed direction, but he had no chance to get to it. But he also had no incentive to, because from his vantage point, it was going to go out as it appeared I had no chance to save it. When it went out, it would be their ball.
What he didn’t realize was the agility and reflexes I possessed. I had developed into a pretty fair hockey goalie in high school, and stopped many a puck because these abilities allowed me to recover when it appeared I was beaten. Often, that meant diving from one side of the goal to the other to make the save.
And that was my only chance here. I had to dive to make the save. And so I dove. And while I was in the air, inches off the ground, I spread out my arms and managed to reach the ball just before it was going out of bounds. I got my hands under the ball, and I flung it in the general direction of the basket, a Hail Mary pass of sorts in the hopes that one of my teammates would get to it first.
No sooner did I launch the ball that I hit the wood floor and slid across the polished surface. The courts for pickup games and practice were separated by heavy canvas curtains that were hung from the ceiling and reached within a few inches of the floor. When I slid, I ended up slightly under the end of that canvas curtain. And if the game was being played in an arena with spectators, I would have been looking in the direction of the seats in the corner of the arena. I was not looking anywhere near the direction of the basket, and even if I had been, the curtain would have blocked my view of the hoop.
As I am getting to my feet to get back onto the court and into the game, I notice that it sounds very quiet. There’s no team chatter, guys asking to be passed the ball and so on. In fact, the first thing I notice is that the guys on both teams are just standing around. So I asked, “Did I throw the ball out of bounds?”
One of my teammates replied, “You scored. It went in the basket.”
“What?” I replied. “Not only did it go in,” my teammate continued, “you swished it.” The guys on the other team nodded in agreement. And I believed that it happened. First of all the game was close enough that the other team would be unlikely to give up a portion of their lead to play a practical joke. Also, the looks on their faces was one of astonishment, not amusement. There’s no way an entire group of college age men could all keep a straight face under those circumstances.
If such a play happened today and someone was recording, it might go viral on YouTube. Instead, only a handful of guys know what happened that day on that basketball court in Teagle Gym, and who knows how many even remember it. After all, they didn’t make the shot.
For me, the memory is bittersweet. It was an amazing, unconscious, one in a billion shot. I clearly remember the event. And I saw it unfold. But I didn’t see it go in. I took the guys’ word for it. It’s up to you if you want to take my word for it.
It is the closest thing to a miracle that I have done in my life. And it is the only one. Jesus, on the other hand, performed a multitude of them.
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. – John 21:24-25