On Sports

Former Providence Journal sports writer Mike Szostak blogs regularly with news and analysis about sports in Rhode Island.

This is how it was supposed to be, back in November when the Rhode Island Rams were ranked nationally and considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament. This is how it was supposed to be come the second weekend in March, the Rams playing for the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship.

I really, really hope the University of Rhode Island beats Davidson in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh and then defeats Virginia Commonwealth or Richmond on Sunday for the championship.

There, I’ve said it. After close to 40 years of no cheering in the press box while I was a newspaper guy, I can take sides now that I am a blogger.

Two teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? With a little luck, and another victory or two in conference tournaments this week, it could happen.

Now that the Patriots have established without a doubt that they are THE dynasty of the Super Bowl era, let’s pause to cheer another New England dynasty, University of Connecticut women’s basketball.

Never in six decades of playing, watching and writing about sports have I seen anything like the dramatic comeback the New England Patriots mounted in Super Bowl LI Sunday night.

N-E-V-E-R.

Tom Brady’s start at quarterback for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI Sunday night will bookend an unforgettable week for aging champions.

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the B&B Dynasty. That’s Belichick & Brady, if you hail from somewhere other than New England.

Think about it. Seven Super Bowls in 17 seasons. Seven! That’s a trip to The Big Game every two years or so. How awesome is that? Most players and coaches consider themselves fortunate to appear in one Super Bowl. Come Feb. 5, B&B will have gone seven times. That’s insane!

Barring an Ivy League championship next fall, the highlight of Brown University’s football season will be the Nov. 10 game against Dartmouth at Fenway Park. That’s right, Fenway Park, the iconic home of the Red Sox.

The Bears and Bruins will kick off on Friday night as the first of three college football games scheduled for the 104-year-old ball park during the 2017 season. The University of Massachusetts and the University of Maine will play on Saturday, Nov. 11, and the University of Connecticut and Boston College will meet a week later on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Bryant University hired a new football coach this month, and thanks to the generosity of two trustees, he will send his players on to a new artificial turf, lighted field next season.

Bryant will be the first of Rhode Island’s three Division I programs to play home games on artificial turf with the option of playing night games. The University of Rhode Island and Brown University play on grass, and Meade Stadium at URI and Brown Stadium in Providence do not have lights. Brown has rented portable lights for one game per season in recent years.

Apologies to the Brown University men’s lacrosse program and attackman Dylan Molloy for not including them among the top sports stories of 2016 posted on Dec. 30. They absolutely deserve a spot in the lineup, and kudos to the sports staff at The Providence Journal for recognizing them on their list of top stories.

Championships eluded New England’s Big Four this year, but the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins still provided us with memorable moments. So did Providence College, Bishop Hendricken and Johnson & Wales. Here, then, are my choices for the Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2016, assuming you agree that whatever happens with the Pats, Sox, Celts and Bs is of local interest.

TOM BRADY RETURNS

So I’m reading my Boston Globe sports page this a.m. when I spied Chad Finn’s sports media column and I almost tossed up in my Cheerios: CSN is cutting old friend and great baseball analyst Sean McAdam, along with veteran Boston sports guru Bob Neumeier.

While coaches Jim Fleming of the University of Rhode Island and Phil Estes of Brown shop for football talent these days, Bryant athletics director Bill Smith searches for a head coach to replace Marty Fine, who resigned on Dec. 1 “to pursue other opportunities.”

Expectations are like sand castles at Scarborough Beach. Threatened by waves and tides, here now but probably gone later. And then rebuilt.

So it is with University of Rhode Island and Providence College basketball this season. The Rams started with great expectations based on the return of injured stars E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. A Top 25 ranking raised expectations higher. Then a three-point loss at Valparaiso  and a heartbreaking three-point loss to Providence at the sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday dashed those expectations. Good-bye Top 25.

November 3, 2016

Dear Chicago,               

You finally did it! After 108 years of failure, disappointment and heartache, you finally did it! You are World Series Champions!

Congratulations! No, make that CONGRATULATIONS!!!

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