The Jimmy V Classic Reminds Us to Laugh, Think, and Cry

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

When I was in a very different place and time, I wrote a column about one of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever had a chance to witness:  It was when the late Jimmy Valvano accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award with his “Never Give Up,” speech at the 1993 ESPYs.

Less than two months later, Jimmy V was dead.

The cancer he so courageously and positively fought had prematurely claimed another life. Valvano, a Queens guy who played at Rutgers and coached at Iona, among other stops, before winning an NCAA Championship at N.C. State, was 47.

I was 33, pretty certain I had the world figured out.

The words from that speech that reverberated from heart to head, were, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

Valvano said them with such promise, such belief, such sincerity, and such passion that the rest of his words faded – until December of 2018. That was a little more than one year after doctors removed the mass behind my right ear and cancer became an uninvited guest.

The Jimmy V Classic was being played at The Garden and for the first time in memory, I couldn’t go. Jimmy V’s speech was aired and this time it was another part of the speech that resonated:

To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.

But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

Laugh. Think. Cry. Seems pretty simple on the surface. And you know what? It is.

It’s really easy to laugh, think, cry when you’re in The Garden and college basketball is being played, as was the case Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

 Texas Tech upset No,1-ranked Louisville, 70-57. It marked the first time in Tech history it upset the nation’s No.1-ranked team. Indiana edged UConn, 57-54, in the second game. The Huskies return to The Garden (and to the Big East) reminded us how electric this sport can be – even in December.

ESPN did a noble job of remembering Valvano and anchor Stuart Scott, who succumbed to cancer in January of 2015. Talk about a couple of guys who could laugh, think and cry. Robin Roberts and Holly Rowe reminded us to never give up.

Look around you. Chances are someone is fighting the fight. All you have to do is follow the words of Valvano. Chances are, it will be a pretty good day.


And the Heisman Trophy Goes to: You Better Sit Down

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  The Heisman Trophy has some very specific rules for its voters. Perhaps the most stringent is this: A voter cannot release his vote before the winner is announced. So, they’ll be no spoiler here.

What there is, however, is one conflicted voter.

Three of the four Heisman Trophy candidates are quarterbacks. Each makes a ridiculously strong case for winning the weighty 45-pound trophy, which is about one-one millionth of the pressure that comes with playing the glamour position at three of America’s most crazed college football schools.

In almost any other year any one of these quarterbacks would be considered a no-brainer to win the 13.5-inch trophy. This is no any other year.

Let’s consider these amateur athlete stat machines, in alphabetical order.

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LSU’s Joe Burrow has had a statistical season for the ages – literally. His completion percentage of 77.9-percent is the best of all time. His passer rating, (you might want to sit for this), is 201.5 which is 11.5 shy of the temperature needed to boil water. Ouch!

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Ohio State’s Justin Fields, in his first season as a starter, threw, (you might want to sit for this) 40 touchdowns and just one interception. Forty-to-one! Yikes! He threw at least two touchdown passes in every game, four TD passes in five games and three or more nine times.

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Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts averaged 279.5 passing yards and 96.5 rushing yards and accounted for 51 touchdowns. His 19 touchdowns rushing and 114 points scored are tied with Navy’s Malcolm Perry for the most by a quarterback. Hurts (you might want to sit for this), rallied the Sooners from 25 points down at Baylor for a 34-31 win, the largest comeback in Oklahoma history. Geez!

At first glance, Burrow’s numbers give him a slight edge (feel free to argue any of these conclusions). But unlike Burrow, who played at LSU last season, Fields and Hurts had to acclimate after transferring, which is no easy task. In fairness to Burrow, LSU installed a completely new offense so all three had a lot of on-the-field adjusting to do.

Each has had to overcome adversity. Burrow started his career at Ohio State but after failing to win the starting job, transferred to LSU. Fields started his career at Georgia but after failing to win the starting job, transferred to Ohio State. Hurts was the started at Alabama, led the Crimson Tide to a national championship, but transferred to Oklahoma after getting beat out for the starting job by Tua Tagovailoa, who almost surely would be in New York if he didn’t suffer a season-ending hip injury.

So, you tell me: Who would you vote for?

Still unsure?

Burrow led the Tigers to an undefeated season, the SEC championship and the No.1 seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff. Fields led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten record, the Big Ten title, and the No.2 seed in the CFP. Hurts led the Sooners to a 12-1 record, a fifth straight Big 12 crown, and the No.4 seed in the playoff.

Still confused? Me too.

So, just to muddle the waters, a defensive player is among the finalists that will come to New York on Dec. 14th for the announcement.

 Chase Young was the Quarterback Ninja. Only Fields knows what’s it’s like to go against him on a consistent basis. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (he might want to sit for this) will try to avoid being Chased down when the Tigers and Buckeyes meet in their semifinal.

Young leads the nation with a school-record 16.5 sacks, the most in the Big Ten in 21 years. Young leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.91), is second with minus-129 yards on those tackles and is tied for fourth with 21 tackles for loss.

I can’t tell you who I voted for but I can tell you this: it was hard. Man was it hard.