Much has been made – and rightly so – about Mike Krzyzewski’s classy post-game visit to the Mercer locker room. Coach K. congratulated the Bear players after they had upset Duke 78-71 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bravo. We see too little of that nowadays. I suspect there’s more of it going on than is reported; after all, media bias is always towards controversy rather than comity. But when a captain of the sporting industry such as Mike Krzyzewski does something classy like this, it simply must be reported.Here’s a story of another such sporting gesture. Back in March of 1998, Boston College’s hockey team defeated Maine 3-2 in the Hockey East championship game. Black Bears’ coach Shawn Walsh visited the Eagles’ locker room after the game to extend his congratulations.
But Walsh took it a step further. He admonished the BC players to not be satisfied with the win. He told them that they were good enough to go all the way to win the national championship, to believe in themselves, and not to let up.
BC had endured six consecutive losing seasons before that breakout year. Getting that far was quite an achievement, and, quite probably, few of the players had expected to be national contenders when the season began. It’s about attitude, not just talent. Walsh knew what he was talking about, and he drove that message home.
As it turned out, BC went to the NCAA Championship Final game that year but lost in overtime to Michigan. But they have been a contender for the title in almost every season since 1998. I can’t help but think that Shawn Walsh’s visit to their locker room that night had a lot to do with it. Class wins out. So does sportsmanship.
Maine hockey was the Duke basketball of its day. Walsh had taken over a mediocre program in 1984 and brought it to two national championships. His 1992-93 team went 42-1-2.
The final game that Shawn Walsh coached was against that same Boston College team. BC defeated Maine 3-1 in the 2001 NCAA regional final and went on to win the national championship at last. Already ill with renal cell carcinoma, Sean died at age 46 in September of 2001. It was a terrible loss to the world of hockey.
This is playoff time. The games of today will always bring back memories of the clashes of yesteryear. We remember best those stories that go beyond the game scores and trophy presentations – the stories that remind us why we love our sports. The story of Coach Krzyzewski in the locker room will carry down through the years. So too should the story of Coach Walsh in the BC locker room.
Here’s to you, Shawn!