I’ve tried, but failed so far, to convince my wife, Little Bear, that Kentucky’s drive toward its ninth national basketball championship should include my presence with the Wildcats on their Aug. 10-17 exhibition tour of the Bahamas.
Unfortunately, Little Bear understands simply that such a trip doesn’t fall within our vacation budget.
So all of my attempts to manipulate her sense of reason for my self-interest (“Hey, honey, I need to establish a rapport with these guys early!”) have fallen on deaf ears.
But such a luxurious trip to the Caribbean, just a month after my 56th birthday, has me thinking about my sports bucket list, meaning the sports events and venues I’d most like to be a part of as my life drifts through the back nine.
Here’s a look at that list, along with the odds I’ll eventually get to these places should I live out an average life span:
THE MASTERS: For me, Augusta National is simply the most beautiful place on Earth, and I’m including not just golf courses, but national parks and the seven wonders of the world.
In the golf world, I see The Masters as just a fraction behind the U.S. Open and the British Open in terms of prestige, but The Masters makes up for that by its early April date on the calendar, which always signals the start of summer.
Jack Nicklaus’ win at the 1986 Masters, at age 46, still arguably ranks as my all-time favorite sports moment. I’ll never forget the roar that day as Nicklaus knocked his shots all around the pin on the Sunday back nine, while squinting through fading eyesight in the fading sunlight, asking his caddie/son where the ball was going.
His son didn’t have to answer: The crowd told Nicklaus what he needed to know.
I’d love to hear a roar like that. I get into a raffle for tickets (go to masters.com) every year, trying to get passes for either the practice rounds or the tournament itself. Tickets are surprisingly inexpensive ($50 to $75 per person for the tournament), but it’s like mining for gold in terms of access.
OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN FOOTBALL: When both teams are competitive, as is the case most years, it’s hard to imagine a more electrifying place to be in sports, whether it be in Columbus or Ann Arbor. It’s a rivalry with a wonderful combination of hate and respect.
I give this game just a slight edge on my list over Auburn-Alabama. I get the impression there’s a little more hate and a little less respect in the latter.
I don’t see a rivalry in college football that belongs in the same sentence as those two games. Both games feature a poignant slice of American color and pageantry that is thrilling and fascinating.
THE BRITISH OPEN: For the longest time, even the majority of my life, I hated this golf tournament simply because the courses so often look like cow pastures.
But in the last decade or so, I’ve turned 180 degrees on the British Open. The venues still look like cow pastures, but I’ve come to realize that’s not the point. The point is the passion and respect of the spectators towards an event that’s played in a part of the world where golf was invented.
My impression is that those people get it in a way that golf fans in other parts of the world often do not.
WIMBLEDON: The tennis is something of a gimmick simply because grass is such a foreign surface for 99.9 percent of the tennis players out there.
But Wimbledon’s tradition, prestige in the sports world and pageantry would create goose bumps because it means so much to so many. And has for decades.
And I’m not sure it would have to be a men’s or women’s final to make my list. The strawberries and cream and the people would be the same even in the early rounds.
WORLD CUP: If I had had kids of my own, I’d probably appreciate soccer more than I do simply because the sport is such a great one for kids. Motion is constant and injuries are relatively minor.
But the sport would be secondary to me at a place like the World Cup because this is an EVENT. I love passion in people, and passion is the order of the day at any match at any World Cup.
The closest I’ve come to that environment was a men’s soccer match in the 1996 Summer Olympics. I sat in the stands with the fans of the team from Mexico, and it was off the charts fun. And I can’t tell you who Mexico played or who won. The people around me had such a great time, and it was infectious.
ROSE BOWL: This game may have lost just a touch of luster from the days of my childhood with the old, traditional Big Ten vs. the Pac 8 or Pac 10 matchup, but it still has an allure that transcends the sport.
The football is still generally great and the environment is gorgeous. Nine years out of 10, it’s 72 degrees, and the sky is so clear that you find it hard to believe there could ever be a cloud in the area.
And nine years out of 10, it’s 33 degrees and drizzling outside my Kentucky home as I watch the game on television.
OLYMPICS TRACK FINALS: So much prestige, so much glamour, so much tension, so many transcendent athletes. If you’re in an Olympic track and field final, you rate as one of the best athletes ever. And most of the athletes in an Olympic final have worked so hard so long to get to that stage, and much of that work has been done in a solitary environment ... just you and your hopes and dreams.
And it would be special to have some time around the people fortunate enough to attend an Olympic Games.
My 1996 Olympic soccer experience was just a quick overnight trip to a game that was played in Birmingham, Ala., far from the Olympic home site of Atlanta.
A NORTH CAROLINA at DUKE MEN’S BASKETBALL GAME: Tradition, energy, intimate venue ... enough said.
Other events just off my bucket list include: A Game 7 of the World Series or Stanley Cup final, a fourth trip to Baton Rouge for a night football game at LSU, a Texas-Oklahoma football game and U.S. Open golf or tennis.