Football is a lot like pizza. Neither one originated in America. Italy exported pizza to the world which almost makes up for the Jersey Shore.
The inspiration for football came from old school rugby in the United Kingdom.
A Sunday with back-to-back-to-back games is akin to a pizza buffet. If some is good, more is better.
If we use the clichéd "banished to an island" predicament, many would choose pizza as their one food item for continual consumption.
Similarly if given the choice of watching just one sport for the rest of your life, football would reign supreme.
How many days on the island before you tire of pizza? A couple of days? A week? Perhaps a pizza connoisseur could last a month, but at some point he or she would be looking for a mango tree.
Likewise football might become stale. I know, it seems unlikely but it is possible. What if your team falters and becomes a laughing stock? Maybe your coach transforms into a total A-hole and you lose routing interest.
Man cannot live on pizza and football alone. So why not delve into our favorite local winter sports head first. At the very least, let hockey and basketball be your mangos.
Check out these numbers: 5,400, 5,387, 4,720 and 2,299. These digits represent the average home attendance figures for each of our minor league sports teams last year. Does Tulsa care? More importantly, why should Tulsa care?
The high mark of 5,400 belonged to the Tulsa Talons. This number was down almost 1,200 from the previous season. So the Tulsa franchise with the highest average home attendance could not survive, called an audible, and headed to the Alamo.
The next highest number (5,387) belonged to your Tulsa Drillers. This number was also down due to extreme temps that ravaged our city and dehydrated asphalt.
This brings us to our winter favorites. The Tulsa Oilers and Tulsa 66ers (4,720 and 2,299 respectively) are content.
Content might not be the proper phrasing, but neither team is loading a Mayflower and skipping town under the cover of darkness.
Each organization would love full arenas and the occasional sell out. Coaches and players would relish chaotic venues that make opposing teams squirm.
Is it feasible? Will Tulsans choose an inexpensive night of sports entertainment versus a dinner/movie combo?
One of the keys to success in any sport at any level is stability. The same rings true at each level from ownership down to players. Having consistency with the coach and general manager is key.
Tulsa Oilers Head Coach Bruce Ramsay enters his third season at the helm. His first two years behind the Oilers bench proved fruitful. Last year he led a scrappy squad into the second round of the Central Hockey League playoffs.
"Last year was an amazing year," said Oilers General Manager Taylor Hall. "Coach Ramsay did a great job recruiting just the right type of guys.
"We had the eventual champions, the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs at a point where if they didn't really step up, we could have eliminated them. Looking back it was a very enjoyable year and a very successful year. One of the most successful years we have ever had here with the Tulsa Oilers."
Canadian-born Hall lives in Tulsa these days. In fact, he has spent eight of the past 20 years in T-Town. The first four years of the reincarnation of the Oilers saw him don the jersey as a player. He knows a winner as he was part of the 1992-93 championship run. He now enters his fourth season with the Oilers as the General Manager.
"Coach Ramsay has a real knack," Hall said. "Players love to play for him. He's very competitive. He's won everywhere he's been.
"Year two was no surprise. We were going to be one of those teams that was not only making the playoffs but really taking a run at it. Year two of the Coach Ramsay era was something that we all expected to happen just because he is such a good coach and has great contacts to recruit players."
Finding balance on the roster proved difficult in years past. Hirings were often based on previous history with the Oilers. Coaches and players were cycled in based on fan appeal perhaps.
When Hall and owner Jeff Lund stepped outside the rich traditional box, they landed Bruce "Rammer" Ramsay. Rammer's philosophy encompasses one goal. Winning.
"This year Coach Ramsay believes that he's done his best job at recruiting those younger players," Hall said. "He's always been good at recruiting the older players."
Leadership is a must in a hockey locker room. When it hits the wall, someone with experience needs to rally the troops. A coach's voice can only carry so much weight.
"At the beginning of the year, the young legs are still there but there is a lot of inexperience," Hall said.
Look for returning veterans Marty Standish, Tyler Fleck and Michel Beausoleil to focus the team through rough patches.
A driving force in the well-oiled machine last year was the mix of youth and vets. Twelve of the 20 players on the opening day roster were born in 1986 or later.
"As the year goes on, you reach the point where those young legs carry the team," he said. "I thought last year, although we had some great veterans and we have some great veterans again this year, it was those young guys that were carrying the load.
"It was the younger guys that at the end of the day that were really some of the best players in the whole league. That is kind of the template for this season again."
Fresh legs at the end of a grueling 66-game season come in handy. The experience gained coupled with the youthful exuberance seems to be the perfect blend for another post-season run.
Only eight of the 20 players on the opening day roster are returning from last year's team. One of the bright spots last season was goalie Ian Keserich. His numbers were solid and he returns between the pipes to anchor another run. So far he has lived up to expectations again this season.
Lest we not forget team owner Jeff Lund. He purchased the franchise in 1999. Some may recall he served as general manager of the early 90's teams including the 1993 championship squad. Stability.
If it has been said once, it has been said a thousand times. People in the hockey business, especially at this level, love their job and it shows.
"That's what it's all about," Hall said. "Hockey, hockey, hockey."
Grapes of Bad Rap
If we're sticking with the "S-word" theme here, the Tulsa 66ers may finally be on the right track.
Player turnover in the NBA's D-League is inevitable. Some may tire of the D-League grind and quit professional basketball. Others may jump overseas for a paycheck. A select few will get the NBA call-up and realize their dream. You know...if the NBA actually existed this season.
A fortified front office and steady coaching staff must be present to achieve stability thus earning victories.
(Of course earlier this week it was announce Head Coach Nate Tibbetts accepted a job with the Cleveland Cavilers of the NBA. This means the organization is being recognized.
His replacement is already on board. Dale Osbourne assisted Tibbetts the past two and a half seasons. The transition should be seamless. The following interview took place while Tibbetts was still in charge and the philosophies should remain intact. )
The Oklahoma City Thunder lends credibility to the 66ers more than ever. There is now a vested interest in the team by ownership and it shows.
"We are really trying to pride ourselves on doing it the Thunder way," said 66ers former Head Coach Nate Tibbetts. "We are an extension of what they are doing in Oklahoma City."
It shows. Our 66ers rolled into Tulsa with an excellent reputation. However, the first few years of pro basketball in Tulsa left a lot to be desired.
Coach Tibbetts was hand selected by the highly regarded Thunder front office. His coaching philosophy aligns with the Thunder vision. His first two years on the bench resulted in playoff runs. Playoff appearances were scarce prior to his arrival.
"We try to bring in good guys," Tibbetts said. "Guys who are going to be in the community, be positive influences and role models. That is important to us."
Tibbetts' father Fred was a successful basketball coach in his home state of South Dakota. Nate was your quintessential gym rat at an early age.
"I played point guard as a youngster," Tibbetts said. "I prided myself in getting teammates in right spots. It has been something that I was led to. My dad had a wonderful career. I loved the way he did things. I am proud to say that I am doing what he loved to do."
Coaching is no different from playing. If you are not getting better, you are getting passed up by the competition.
"You can always learn from other people," Tibbetts said. He and his wife Lyndsey call Tulsa home six or seven months out of the year, depending on how deep the team goes into the playoffs.
Then they transition over to Oklahoma City and join the Thunder crew. He spends valuable playoff time and draft prep time with the parent club, unless of course the NBA labor situation prevents such interaction.
His 66ers staff is solid from the assistant coaches to the athletic trainer. Hanging out with Thunder General Manager Sam Presti is an offseason bonus. Learning the ropes up-close with an elite NBA coach like Scott Brooks helps too.
"The biggest thing is you cannot try to be somebody that you are not," he said. "You have to be your own person."
Experience should come in droves after his stint as Team USA Head Coach for the Pan American Games in October.
He was charged with assembling a group of D-League players and turning them into a focused unit representing their country. The experience should benefit him, the Tulsa players involved, and our city. His Team USA squad earned the bronze medal.
The Tulsa Convention Center is home to the team for the third straight year. It also marked headquarters for USA Basketball's training camp.
"It is a great facility for us," Tibbetts said. "Downtown Tulsa is getting better and better every year."
Do not expect to see Thunder players in 66ers uniforms on assignment. The ongoing tumultuous labor battles between the NBA and player's union make the Gaza Strip seem like Disney World. Except this dispute is between millionaires and billionaires.
So what is the magical secret to the sudden 66ers success? How did Coach Tibbetts and now Head Coach Osbourne maximize the efforts of players in a sport identified with selfishness.
Number one: "We're trying to teach our guys to be professionals and come to work every day and work extremely hard."
Number two: "Our goal every day is to get better. Our guys have really committed to that."
The highlight reel rarely shows the perfect screen or bounce pass that led to the thunder jam. Individual faces are not hidden by helmets, masks and caps.
"We are trying to get guys to play roles," he said. "Not just to play a role for the 66ers, but if you were to get called up, you are going to have to fill a need or a role at the NBA level."
D-League players must do dirty work if called up to the NBA. They need to be proficient at setting screens, playing defense, rebounding and overall good teammates.
Sugar on Top
The Oilers and 66ers travel the country sporting "Tulsa" across their chests. The lasting image the past few years has been that of a winner.
Both franchises strive for your dollar. Each delivered championship caliber runs a season ago. Optimism soars in both organizations.
Winning is not always enough as we've learned over the years with fickle Tulsa sports fans. We need winners, but we want more.
Let's go rapid fire and alternate between the two teams (no favoritism here) and explain why they might be worthy of your attendance:
"We are one of two teams that have been a part of the Central Hockey League for 20 years," Hall said. The organization will celebrate 20 years in Tulsa throughout the season.
"As I was opening them, I was thinking to myself this is crazy," said Tibbetts upon receiving his first shipment of USA logo gear. "This is so awesome just to see that."
"Our games are a great place to be able to spotlight and be able to create awareness for charitable organizations," Hall said. The Oilers continue to penetrate the community with a multipronged approach.
"Most of our guys are all conference players wherever they played in college," Tibbetts said. It is true. The 66ers roster is filled with former collegiate stars on the cusp of NBA rosterville. The 66ers started training camp with Big East, ACC and Big 12 stars on the roster.
"We are going to be involved with the BOK Center again -- with their Winterfest," Hall said. The popular outdoor festival grows in statue each year. You never know when an Oiler player will skate by you on a Sunday afternoon.
"I can't specify on Larry (Owens) because of the lockout," Tibbetts said. This is the number one reason to give the 66ers a look. They are the only professional basketball team in Oklahoma for the time being.
"I believe only about a third of our home games are going to be played before Jan. 1," Hall said. The March heavy home schedule is perfect for T-Towners who are done with football and not revved up for baseball.
"It would be awesome if the city of Tulsa would step up and support us," Tibbetts said. "We feel we have done a really good job the last couple of years putting a great product out of the floor." Do the players deserve packed houses? You make the call.
"I think last year the BOK Center had 150-160 events and Oilers hockey brought 38 of those," Hall said. "A lot of fans see the BOK Center with an Oilers ticket and we are very proud of that, as well."
As you can see, both teams offer more than just elite competition. They continue to dish up exciting entertainment in a professional manner.
Visit tulsaoilers.com and tulsa66ers.com for ticket, schedule and general information.
"We are excited about the upcoming season and the challenging schedule with 11 teams that won 20 or more games last year and 12 that participated in a postseason tournament," said University of Tulsa Men's Basketball Head Coach Doug Wojcik.
Every year optimism soars as the Golden Hurricane appears on the cusp of returning to glory. Some years the squad makes a legit run and comes up just short. Memphis domination in Conference USA eliminated TU from the NCAA on more than one occasion.
Other times the team simply did not compete at the level expected. Coach Wojcik could only scratch his head.
Big man Steven Idlet is the poster child for this year's experiment. If the 6-foot-11-inches low post player can flex some muscle, perhaps a surprise run is looming.
Idlet scored 11.6 points per contest a season ago while pulling down 6.3 rebounds per game. Both numbers must increase for this team to reach legitimate postseason play.
Meanwhile, sophomore Jordan Clarkson was the only Hurricane to garner preseason recognition. Clarkson was named to the preseason All-Conference Second Team.
Clarkson along with Scottie Haralson will be called upon to carry the scoring load along with Idlet.
The top two assist guys from last year's team have moved on. Coach Wojcik, a former point guard in college, continues to search for a distributor of the ball.
Speaking of Wojcik, can you believe this is his seventh year prowling the sidelines? He has compiled a 56-38 C-USA record. The biggest complaint during his tenure is the 0-0 record in the NCAA Tournament.
"The stretch in December with five straight home games features extremely competitive games against Arizona State and former Missouri Valley rivals Wichita State and Creighton," Wojcik said.
His squad earned precious few national broadcast games for the upcoming season. If TU wants to garner attention and praise beyond the Tulsa media, they need to show dominating performances when on the big stage.
Visit tulsahurricane.com for more information.
Birds of a Feather
Proponents of a college football playoff system must really love Oral Roberts regular season. With all due respect to Head Coach Scott Sutton, it is meaningless.
The same could be said for most non-BCS, non-AQ (automatic qualifier) schools but much more so for a team like the Golden Eagles.
Coach Sutton would never admit as much, but he probably is secretly thinking the same thing to himself. His goal is to get his players quality situational game experience. Have a few bench players earn their stripes in crunch time. Then when the Summit League postseason tournament ramps up his squad will be firing on all cylinders.
Sutton is a master of his trade. He is a smart tactician. His teams play with solid fundamentals. He will have this team ready for another league championship run on their way out of the Summit League.
Next July the Golden Eagles join the Southland Conference. Instead of away games spanning from Utah to Michigan to Louisiana, they will now remain in a four state radius: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Give props to Oral Roberts for making a wise decision in regards to conference realignment.
Back to the court. Basketball is a simple game made complicated by many. You must have a cohesive unit. There must be several role players supporting a star player or two. This has been proven time and time again.
Dominique Morrison is joined at the top of the pack by Steven Roundtree and a hopefully healthy Michael Craion. Each of these guys has the ability to score in bunches and take over a game during crunch time. Most importantly, they can create their own shots.
However, the destiny of this team relies on Warren Niles and Roderick Pearson running a smooth, efficient offense especially with the loss of homegrown senior Ken Holdman.
Visit orugoldeneagles.com for more information.
Rough and Tumble
Fads come and go, hence the moniker. For instance, there was a time when parachute pants were cool. Today, not so much.
So it would be easy to dismiss a hardcore group of gals who decided to unleash roller derby on T-Town. Let's give them their 15 minutes of fame and move on.
You would be wrong. Not only are the Green Country Roller Girls thriving in Tulsa, they are also making a difference in our community.
In 2012 they will be moving from their current location, Broken Arrow Roller Sports, to downtown Tulsa's Pavilion at Expo Square. A fledgling operation would not take on such a risk. Downtown Tulsa seems like a perfect fit to boot.
Just to illustrate the commitment involved with the squad, take a look at the money they raised this past October. Their "Bout Against Cancer" led to the donation of $5,500 for two charities. Breast Impressions and Oklahoma Family Network Oncology were the grateful recipients.
They are real and they are spectacular.
"Of course, we are always recruiting skaters, refs, volunteers and looking for sponsors for our league," said founding member/owner/skater Elektra Violette.
"We will be hosting open tryouts again this year through Jan. 8. Anyone with derby experience is welcome to come try out for our team and league. And anyone with no experience that would like to learn to play roller derby is encouraged to join too. We teach you everything you need to know to play, so no experience is necessary for that."
For more information regarding the Green Country Roller Girls visit greencountryrollergirls.com.
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