If you’re knee deep in the Netflix series House of Cards like me and Barack Obama, then you’ll know the office of the Vice President of the United States of America has rarely enjoyed a more glamorous or salacious depiction of its daily agenda.
Fiction is far enough from fact to make the Kevin Spacey portrayal of Frank Underwood the most enjoyable thing about this relentless February. The whole concept offers the right amount of ridiculous and I get an even bigger kick out of how Joe Biden must revel in the absurdly dark representation offered up by the show’s writers.
Biden might be uncomfortably close to finding himself installed as the leader of the free world but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, he’s a hoot. It’s true art the way he lights up a room with his dazzling smile and that tried and tested pointing finger — “I know you! I remember that! Good times!” Which is why in the midst of all this hype and bluster about the new House of Cards series, my favourite image of this past sporting week is that of the real vice president making a phone call to congratulate Tyler Ennis, a young basketball player wearing the orange of Biden’s alma mater, Syracuse University.
It’s a US sporting schtick as old as newspaper photography — although of course it’s not uniquely American. All the way back to when the 29th US president, Warren Harding, reached out to shake hands with Babe Ruth in the early 1920s as the Yankees stood ready to change baseball forever, it has paid real dividends to stay close to the star athlete. Biden can detect better than anyone where best to place himself and his seemingly limitless lust for life.
With March Madness getting close, Syracuse are the No 1 college team in the country. They are undefeated all season, their 25-game winning streak breaking their own school record, and a recent home game against Duke breaking the attendance record for an on-campus basketball game — over 35,000 people piling into the Carrier Dome, many of them craning their necks for a decent view from their cheap seats at the far-flung corners of what doubles as a football stadium. The reason Ennis got a call from the VP late last week is simple — he kept that astonishing record intact with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that even still, a week later, on the 16th or 17th viewing, makes him seem much too casual, calm and collected.
Syracuse were losing at Pittsburgh with a couple of seconds to go and their old rivals were barely able to contain their glee that they had almost managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
The last person in the world the Pittsburgh Panthers players wanted that ball to end up in the hands of was the 19-year-old Canadian point guard. With as little fuss as possible, Ennis calmly worked the ball into the Pittsburgh half of the court and popped up a much too ambitious three-point attempt that of course swished right through at the perfect moment, the buzzer ripping through the shellshocked Petersen Events Center.
He might have panicked and passed the ball off to someone better positioned to charge through for a two because that’s all that was required. But greedily Ennis took it upon himself to save his side’s flawless (in terms of results anyway) season leading to the equally unforgettable phone call he was about to receive in the aftermath.
Syracuse survived another close call last weekend, barely beating North Carolina State, and tonight they host Boston College in what should be a run-of-the-mill encounter. This weekend, however, it starts to get intriguing when they visit Duke for the first time since the upstate New York college made the controversial switch to the ACC.
Dollar signs sent Syracuse (and indeed Pittsburgh) into the bosom of the ACC, a move somewhat similar to those flirtatious chats Celtic and Rangers had with English football a while back. The Big East Conference had been their home for about 30 years and in its glory days it was more gripping than anything the NBA had to offer.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim brought them all the way through those Madison Square Garden moments but described the incredible overtime victory against Duke on the first day of this month as the best he’d ever witnessed.
If you have the energy on Saturday evening around midnight, try to find a way of watching the reverse clash in North Carolina.
The Syracuse-Duke story is still only taking shape and it might have been contrived by greed but it’s starting to look like the beginning of a beautiful rivalry. If it’s all right by Joe, it’s all right by me.
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