The little things

By Mike Szwaja

“That’s what you remember, man. It’s the little things, the silly things, the mistakes. There’s only one of them and it makes the song. … That’s rock and roll.”

– Russell Hammond in “Almost Famous”

Although Russell was talking about rock music, he could have easily been talking about sports. We love sports because we cherish the little things, the silly things, the mistakes, and we’ll keep those things with us for a lifetime.

Everyone’s list is different, but I love short-handed goals and golden goals and the sound of basketball shoe soles and how Jordan could instill fear in his opponents simply by the way he chewed his gum and Agassi’s militant walk back to the baseline after hitting a winner and fans in the first row who keep their hands to themselves on sharp ground balls down the third base line and the way Pat Foley says, “He scoooores!” and how Beckham can put a ball right on a teammate’s stripes from 65 yards away and the way Gretzky smiled after he scored a goal and Carrie Walsh’s jump serve and the look in Tiger’s eyes when he pulls up his left sleeve before hitting a big shot and the way Maddux hops off the mound right after he lets go of the ball as if he knows where the guy’s going to hit it and when Steve Stone correctly predicts a 3-2 slider that gets a guy swinging and when a curling skip yells “Haaaard!” and never knowing what Mike Tyson will say next and Jimmy Roberts’s moving Olympic featurettes and the duel of the fight songs during a Notre Dame/Michigan game and admitting I cry every time I watch Miracle or Rudy and crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon and sinking a downhill, left-to-right putt and the sound of keys jingling in a college football stadium and throwing passes to random tailgaters in parking lots and the smell of sauerkraut at U.S. Cellular Field and stadiums that have real names like Soldier Field, Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium and never forgetting Jackie Robinson and the same goes for Pat Tillman and old-school ballers who still think mid-range jump shots and bounce passes are cool and hand-operated scoreboards and the dropped third strike rule and ball players who still wear the knee-high socks and hockey players who wear eye shields and the best uniforms in each of the four major sports: Blackhawks, Braves, Celtics, Raiders and “Blades of Steel,” the best sports video game ever and the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup squad, led by Mia Hamm, selling out our football stadiums and Golden Bell, No. 12 at Augusta, the prettiest hole in golf and Rick Reilly’s novel Missing Links, the funniest book you’ll ever read and listening to Kornheiser and Wilbon “interrupt” each other and watching as much of the NFL Draft as possible and the way Mel Kiper Jr. starts every sentence with “When you look at…” and the NFL Network and Fox Soccer Channel and spending 10 hours in a bar waiting for your team to play in the NCAA basketball National Championship game and watching people celebrate an extraordinary season in the streets after the game even though their team lost and recalling the time a man at Disney World saw my Illinois shirt, shook my hand, let out a boisterous “Class of ’69!” then walked away and the cold fall wind hitting my face during Illini soccer games and “Point … Illinois!” and memories of the charismatic yet dominant 2003 Illini tennis team that won the National Championship, finishing 32-0 and the offensive machine that was the 2001 Illini football team and the Red Grange jersey hanging on the wall in Legends and stadium sales and Bruce telling Dickie V. to “Take his Dukies and shove it” and doing orange loads of laundry and Block I card stunts and insisting my class ring has the Chief on it and putting my arms around two strangers while singing the Alma Mater during the 3-in-1 and showdowns with Purse and getting hate mail and when people tell me they enjoy reading my columns. I’ll never forget the little things.

I’ll miss you all. Thanks for reading. Thanks for everything. I’m out.