Tim O’Sullivan column: Giving thanks to our father figures on this holiday

Last modified: 12/1/2015 3:13:11 AM
For the last 20-plus years, Thanksgiving tradition in my family has included a trip to Maryland to visit my father.

That tradition was put on hold this year, but of course I was still thinking about my dad, maybe even more so. That got me to thinking about the patriarchs on our New England sports scene. We’re blessed with some of the best. So to the men who are responsible for carving our sports turkeys, here’s a gravy boat of thanks.

Let’s start with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick get, and deserve, the lion’s share of the praise when it comes to the Patriots’ success. But Kraft is the man who hired Belichick, who has kept Brady well-paid and in one place, and is the money man behind New England’s string of 13 straight 10-win seasons (2003-present), the second-longest streak in NFL history behind only the 16 San Francisco put together from 1983-98.

It’s hard to know just how much credit Kraft deserves for all those wins, but it’s certainly some. The mere fact that he doesn’t meddle with personnel or game-planning decisions has probably saved the

franchise a few poor draft picks and losses along the way (are you listening Jerry Jones?). The football/entertainment/shopping mecca he has built in Foxoborough lets fans, players and the rest of the league know, in New England, we do it right.

Kraft’s paternal qualities shone during this offseason of Deflategate nonsense. First, he was willing to take the high road and put the collective good of the NFL above his team when he decided not to appeal Roger Goodell’s initial ruling. But after Goodell refused to let a third party handle the appeal process and upheld Brady’s four-game suspension (which was, of course, later reversed), Kraft reacted like any protective father would and his words bear repeating.

“Given the facts, evidence and laws of science that underscore this entire situation, it is completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players and a man for whom I have the utmost respect,” Kraft said in July. “Personally this is very sad and disappointing to me.”

About a month later, Kraft did the greatest awkward dad dance in the history of New England as the Patriots raised their latest Super Bowl banner on opening night at Gillette Stadium. With Patriots legends Ty Law, Willie McGinest and Troy Brown already grooving to T-Pain rapping “All I Do is Win” with Lombardi Trophies in their hands, Kraft stepped onto the field with the newly minted fourth Lombardi and joined the dance. He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t need to. He just gave everyone that dad look and, somehow, it was at once fatherly and gangsta, and it was just right.

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A certain football game in Durham this weekend is part of the reason I won’t be traveling to see my dad for Thanksgiving, but there are quite a few father figures to thank at UNH. There’s Sean McDonnell, the man who has led the football team to 12 straight postseasons, the best mark in the country. There’s Dick Umile, the man who has led the UNH hockey team to 17 NCAA tournaments during his 22-year career in Durham.

But what about the man who has kept those two coaches in place ever since he arrived at UNH in 2000? Who has overseen a face lift of the school’s athletic facilities and image? Let’s be sure to thank Director of Athletics Marty Scarano.

It would have been easy for Scarano to go in a different direction after McDonnell posted an 18-26 record in his first four seasons, but Scarano showed loyalty and every football fan in the state is glad he did. Umile was already recognized as one of the top coaches in college hockey when Scarano arrived at UNH in 2000, and he’s made sure both hockey teams, men’s and women’s, have received top-level support ever since.

The Whittemore Center is sporting $1.3 million worth of upgrades this season in the form of a four-sided, center-hung video board, a high-resolution end zone board and an LED display band. Scarano helped provide Cowell Stadium with new turf and its first-ever lights, and next year will mark the unveiling of Wildcat Stadium, a $25 million home for the football team and upgrade for the entire campus.

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The third sports patriarch who gets some extra thanks this year really enjoys carving the turkey. He likes to slice it with the grain, against the grain, into slabs, into cubes, into strips. He likes to try the potatoes smashed, mashed and whipped. He wants a sample of all the pies.

That man would be Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge. I don’t actually know what he does with a Thanksgiving meal, but Trader Danny certainly likes to try out all the sides when it comes to his basketball team.

Ainge’s wheeling, dealing and roster carving brought Boston its last NBA title in 2008, and all that moving and shaking has given Celtics fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful, and hopefully thankful, for the future. Maybe as many as 11 reasons.

There’s a possibility Boston could have 11 first-round picks in the next four drafts, and if local basketball fans aren’t thankful for that, they’re confused.

Due to some of the picks being protected and other footnotes attached to the horde of first-rounders Ainge has amassed, chances are good the Celtics won’t end up with all 11 picks. Even if they did, that would be too many young guys to bring onto one roster, so some of the choices will have to be dealt, but we know Ainge can handle that just fine, thank you very much.

What we do know for sure is that the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first-round pick in the 2016 draft, and the Nets are one of the three worst teams in the league. So that pick could end up being No. 1 overall, and that could mean LSU freshman phenom Ben Simmons coming to Boston. The fact that sentence can even be written is reason enough to thank Ainge.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)


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