John Buccigross

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Tuesday, July 2
 
Where golf, God and hockey meet

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

I put my golf shoes on at 7:30 a.m. and took them off 15 hours later at 10:30 p.m. For John Michael Buccigross, THAT is a good day.

Chris Drury
Chris Drury delivers for the Avalanche and for Travis Roy.
The occasion was the seventh annual Travis Roy benefit golf tournament in Orange, Conn. Roy, as most of you know, was a Boston University freshman in October of 1995 when he was paralyzed eleven seconds into his collegiate career. Roy fell head first into the boards after delivering a check and shattered his fourth cervical vertebra, severely damaging his spinal cord. He tells his story in "Eleven Seconds," a book co-written by the great writer E.M. Swift, and which many of you recommended when I asked you to send in summer reading book requests.

For seven years this golf tournament has taken place to help raise funds for Travis and the fight to find a cure for spinal cord injuries so he and those like him might some day walk again. Avalanche forward Chris Drury, a teammate of Roy's at BU, has been there since the beginning, along with his brother Ted. Michael Ferguson, a friend of all three men who helps run the event, called me Sunday to ask if I would play in the morning as well as the afternoon. I said, "No problem," and Monday morning I headed down to Racebrook Country Club.

I arrived at 7:30 and headed to the carts for the 8 a.m. shotgun start. It was a perfect Connecticut day -- 80 degrees, no humidity and little wind. My ideal day. I played with a great group of guys that included Brendan Sheehy, the supervisor of officials for Hockey East, and we blistered the course with a 15-under par. The afternoon shotgun got underway as we were finishing our last hole of the morning round. I carted in, grabbed a burger, jumped back in the cart and headed out to find my afternoon teammates.

By the time I found them, they had already hit their first drive. I jumped out, grabbed a lob wedge and hit one to three feet. We birdied the first three holes, but faded late. However, the afternoon round ended well when we finished up on one of the closest to the pin holes. In the morning, I had hit one to four feet and when we got to the green, I discovered it had held up. I hardly ever win a closest to the pin, since I'm not a great ball striker. My strength is driving and putting, so it was a pleasant surprise to end the day seeing my name still on the stake. I got a U.S Open Bethpage golf shirt.

At the dinner and awards presentation, we learned our morning round held up as the winning score. The day kept getting better. The sun was dropping and the evening was turning into one of those June nights you wish could last forever. Tom Poti of the Rangers was there, and it was so obvious how much the trade to the Rangers pleased him. He is the kind of person who likes to be near home and family. That fact alone will result him in having a better season next year. I guarantee it.

I walked out to the parking lot to put my prizes in my car and to get out of my golf shirt. I put on the Travis Roy t-shirt that was in our goody bag and headed back to the outdoor dinner of steak, chicken and all the fixins. As I got there, I saw Chris Drury was about to leave. He was heading back to Boston where he hangs out for the summer. I had him sign my tournament hat -- it's a great-looking yellow hat with the Travis Roy Golf Tournament logo on it. When I try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in August, I will be wearing that hat with Drury's signature on the bill. On the side of my golf ball will be TRAVIS ROY 24.

I chatted briefly with Drury as he exited. We both share that inability to carry a conversation, so our chats are usually brief. I have talked with him once on the telephone and spoken briefly with him in person twice. I know nothing about him and have been unable to get a good read on him. I think in some ways he is like me. He'll accommodate at any time yet prefers to be out of the limelight, on the perimeter of social events, but in the middle of athletic ones. I think it is NOT surprising that shy, introverted people like Drury and say, Larry Bird, embrace the athletic spotlight. It is there they can express themselves and what is truly inside them, without using words. Their actions say "I care. I'm a good teammate. I'm smart. I'm aware. I'll sacrifice." Bird and Drury are uncomfortable in suits and prefer to be among friends. They play because it's fun and for the money. NOT THE FAME. I'm the same way. I didn't get into this business to be famous. I got in it for the fun and because they give out money to do it. That's why I work. It's a job. We work for money. One of perhaps numerous areas where Drury and I differ is that I am much more likely to end up in my underwear lip-syncing a KISS song as I did during last call at the bar "Shenanigans" while attending Heidelberg College in 1985. The song was "Heaven's on Fire." You don't forget those things.

We chatted for a while and I bought a copy of his book, "Eleven Seconds." He asked me if I wanted him to sign it. I said, "Absolutely." He took a pen, put it in his mouth, and while John Drury, Chris and Ted's dad, held the book, Travis signed it.
As the sun began to set in the orange sky, the live auction was taking place. There was a large batch of autographed items and I had my eye on a couple things. A HUGE pet peeve of mine is athletes who sloppily sign their names. What makes Ted Williams even more of a baseball legend is the impeccable penmanship he had in signing his prime. Joe DiMaggio, too. Beautiful. We all can't all have such penmanship, but we can try to at least MAKE IT READABLE. So I narrowed my wish list to one. A framed, autographed jersey of Larry Bird. Bird entered the NBA when I was 13, and left when I was 26. I cared a little about the NBA before he arrived and not at all after he left. His signature was done with a silver pen on the right "3" on the back of his uniform. It was perfect. I knew the bidding would be high, but I wanted to give something significant to the cause and have something to remember this great day by. Plus Travis wore No. 24 and Bird averaged 24 points for his career. It was destiny, right? My cutoff was $1,000. Someone went to $1,100.

"Going once, going twice..."

"$1,200!!!" I screamed.

My "opponent" crumbled like the Washington Capitals.

I'll be paying off my donation until 2006. Night was coming fast, and it was time to head home. I had yet to introduce myself to Travis. He had been busy all day and night. I walked over and touched his arm. We chatted for a while and I bought a copy of his book, "Eleven Seconds." He asked me if I wanted him to sign it. I said, "Absolutely." He took a pen, put it in his mouth, and while John Drury, Chris and Ted's dad, held the book, Travis signed it.

"TO JOHN BEST WISHES TRAVIS ROY."

I headed home, still with my golf shoes on. I pulled into my driveway and the earth's nightlight was in full glow. A full moon. I sat on my front steps and stared up at the sky and thought about Travis Roy and how his days on earth are likely forever stuck in that wheelchair, dependent on those around him. How sad that must be. And frightening. Whenever I have the "Is there a God?" debate with my agnostic friends, I cite these moments of natural beauty as MY argument for visual proof . However, at that moment my mind was also dealing with the image of a young man in a wheel chair and why he is there. And how can this be the end of the road for him? Is that not also a sign that there must be more somewhere? I mean it is so unfair. My December 10th column mentioned how I always thought my church and NHL hockey arenas gave off the same vibe in my pre-teen days, and here I was again, thinking about God and hockey at the same time.

I decided to look for the answer on the basketball court in my backyard. The one that I freeze in the winter for backyard ice hockey. (Actually, one afternoon last winter I was shooting hoops on skates.) I decided to grab a basketball and head to the court. After all, I had just got the Bird jersey as an emblem for a perfect day and both basketball and hockey share steel and netting as it's target. Here I would find my answer! The light of the moon lit the court like it lit my ice during my New Year's Eve skate. No lights needed. I went to the far corner of the court and stood there with the ball. I said I would take one shot from 18 feet (Drury's number). Just one. If it goes in, Travis Roy will one day run and skate and do whatever one does in what most people call heaven. Maybe he'll even sing KISS in his underwear. If it doesn't go in, this all doesn't mean anything and it doesn't matter how we live or how well we treat each other. Just one big insignificant cosmic thing that has no soul or value. I never claimed to be Einstein or St. Thomas Aquinas.

I began dribbling. I looked at the moon lighting up the sky at it sat above my house. A thin swath of cloud giving the sky texture. Still dribbling, I looked at the rim, thinking about Travis in that wheel chair and how it all sucks. And it how it makes me angry that he can't skate and play golf and just mindlessly shoot hoops on a warm summer night. One shot. For an answer. Or at least a temporary reprieve from my confusion and doubt.

Still with my golf shoes on, I took one last look at the moon, the sky, and the stars. I looked at the rim, stopped dribbling, and shot.

Swish.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.







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