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Sweet Dreams Sports, unlike much of American life, often reward what seem like absurd aspirations

April 09, 2001
April 09, 2001

Table of Contents
April 9, 2001

Sweet Dreams Sports, unlike much of American life, often reward what seem like absurd aspirations

In high school I sat in the basement and watched Minnesota Twins
games on TV and wrote earnest stories about them on my mom's
Royal typewriter. You had to strike the keys violently--as if
trying, on a carnival midway, to ring a bell with a sledgehammer.
The keys went bang! and the carriage-return bell went ping! and I
dreamed, absurdly, of writing for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

This is an article from the April 9, 2001 issue Original Layout

Bo Ryan became a basketball assistant at Wisconsin in 1976. He
left Madison eight years later to be head coach at
Wisconsin-Platteville, and 15 years after that he took over at
Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Last week Ryan--now a 53-year-old father of
five--returned to Madison as coach of the flagship Badgers. He
said of the job, "It's a dream."

Jay Wright was raised near Philadelphia on Villanova basketball
games. His hero was a Villanova coach, he married a Villanova
cheerleader, and he became a Villanova assistant before alighting
at Hofstra, which he left on March 27 to become the new head
coach at...Villanova. "If you're a Villanova fan and Rollie
Massimino is your idol, what's better?" Wright said, invoking the
name of the coach who led the Wildcats to the national
championship in 1985. "You dream about walking on the sidelines."

Wright's top assistant for seven years at Hofstra was Tom Pecora,
who grew up 20 minutes from the Hempstead, N.Y., campus, once
washed dishes in the Hofstra alumni club and returned to that
club last week when he was promoted to head coach of the Pride.
"This," he said, "is my dream job."

These dreams may not sound like much to you, and I sometimes feel
like Lily Tomlin, who said, "I always wanted to be somebody, but
I should have been more specific." More often, though, I
recognize that herein lies the central beauty of sports: Lifelong
dreams are fulfilled every day. Few fantasize about careers in
waste management or systems analysis or double-entry bookkeeping,
fulfilling as those jobs may turn out to be. But in sports, last
week alone, women's Final Four participant Jackie Stiles of
Southwest Missouri State said, "I'm living a dream," and men's
Final Four participant Nate James of Duke said, "I'm living a
dream," and quarterback Drew Henson said, after leaving Michigan
to sign with the New York Yankees, that wearing pinstripes was
his life's dream.

This week someone will realize his once-ridiculous ambition of
getting green-blazered at Augusta while someone else will fulfill
his absurd childhood fantasy by stepping to the plate in a major
league game. We spend so much time cautioning kids not to dream
of playing big league ball--"There are only 700 jobs"--that we
often forget a salient point: There are 700 jobs, and they have
to be filled by real people, most of whom are thankful that
nobody crushed out their dreams like a spent Camel. Hope, a
philosopher said, is the dream of the waking.

"Try some more," said another great thinker, Willie Wonka, while
urging the brats who toured his chocolate factory to sample the
lickable wallpaper. "The strawberries taste like strawberries!
The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!"

"Snozzberries?!" replied Veruca Salt. "Whoever heard of a
snozzberry?"

To which Wonka said only, "We are the music-makers. And we are
the dreamers of dreams."

He was alluding to a 19th-century poet named Arthur
O'Shaughnessy, who wrote:

We are the music-makers
And we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams
World-losers and world-forsakers
On whom the pale moon gleams
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.

The world belongs to those who see its possibilities. Dreaming is
like believing in God or enrolling in the United frequent-flier
program: It costs nothing, yet has potentially transcendent
rewards. Why not dream? Yours can be audaciously gigantic: A
teenage Ted Williams, after all, dreamed of people seeing him and
saying, "There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever
lived." (Now, remarkably, they do just that.)

Or your dream can be laughably humble: Seven years after I
graduated from high school, the Twins won Game 7 of the World
Series at the Metrodome, and I drove a rental car through
downtown Minneapolis to my childhood home in the suburbs, where I
wrote, in the basement, the story for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

The dream fulfilled is every bit as fantastic as I once imagined
it to be. The strawberries really do taste like strawberries. And
the snozzberries taste like snozzberries.

B/W ILLUSTRATIONDAN PICASSO