Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
"McGrady's playin'," a scrappy Puerto Rican with a ponytail announces. "Aw, shit" is the collective answer from the group of young basketball enthusiasts that includes neighborhood teenagers from varied ethnic backgrounds and maybe a has-been or two. "McGrady" as in Tracy McGrady is an appropriate nickname for the resident badass of Holiday Park. If you cover too closely, he's by you. Give him a little room? Swish. But he can't do it on his own. In fact, McGrady has stomped off into the thick Florida night from quite a few close games at Holiday. He's known to shout "I can take any of you one-on-one," and that's part of what makes it the best place in South Florida to play. There is no greater thrill than to get under McGrady' s skin, and he's not the only one who loses it. Games at Holiday, while friendly at their core, tend to piss people off. People get their fingers and their egos jammed, and that's a big part of the thrill. The place isn't hard to find. The lights shining above Holiday Park will guide the way to the two full courts ensconced at the southwest corner where Sunrise Boulevard meets Federal Highway. Come any night around 7, and don't forget your attitude.
Pompano Beach's Mickey Groody, an 18-year-old senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, has helped his football team reach the Division 5-A State Championships for three years running. This year, the star punter, who averages an NFL-worthy 42.3 yards per kick (about what Minnesota Vikings kicker Chris Kluwe, a longtime pro, averaged last year), is headed off to college -- but not far off. A self-described "hometown guy" with close family ties (he's a big brother to four younger siblings), he'll join legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger and the FAU Owls in the fall.
High school football is a big scene here, isn't it?
Yeah, we'll have 2,000, 3,000 people at a game. Come playoff time, the estimate is 10,000. Everyone goes to the games, even away games. When we went to the state championships, we packed 32 charter buses.
Punter is a high-pressure job What's the best thing about it?
Well, a quarterback can throw an incomplete pass, but he can redeem himself. For me, it's a one-shot deal. I don't get a re-do. The best thing is, though, I come out on fourth down, hearing all the groans and moans from the crowd because the offense didn't get the first down. But I can get the momentum going back toward us.
Tell us about this year's FAU team.
Our goal is to step-by-step get to the National Championship -- and I have a strong feeling that we will. The coach has done it with Miami, and he did the same thing with Louisville.
How important are good grades in all this?
Grades are important, especially to my family. I have to keep above a 3.3 GPA so I'm not grounded.
Any exotic locales you want to go to?
I always wanted to go to Hawaii. I like the whole Hawaiian theme you know, sitting on the beach drinking out of a coconut. I'd love to surf at one of those places where all the famous guys surf.
For any Marlins fan who remembers the 2003 World Series and the insanely good pitching that won it, the name Josh Beckett should be honored. Enshrined. Hell, can we apply for sainthood? Alas, Beckett was traded away to the Red Sox and left some mighty big cleats to fill. One of the players who came here in return for Beckett, through a complicated trade deal, was shortstop Hanley Ramirez. No, not Harley Ramirez. No, not Manny Ramirez. No, not that serial killer. We mean the kid who came out of Beantown's farm system to begin his major league career with the Marlins, under the weight of great expectations. He carried the load and then some. In fact, Ramirez won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006 (notably, his Marlins teammates Dan Uggla and Josh Johnson were right behind him in votes.) It's not just that Ramirez has a .292 batting average or that he regularly slams homers over the wall or that he steals bases almost every third game (51 last year!). It's that, bundled together in a speedy package, with his hat cocked sideways on his head and his sunglasses coolly in place, Ramirez (lovingly nicknamed "Shadez") gives us something exciting to watch and someone worthwhile to cheer for. It's too early to guess whether the 2007 Marlins will make the postseason, and it'd be premature to call Ramirez our next Josh Beckett but hey, you're not calling him Harley anymore.
With D-Wade injured, this honor must now go to a mere mortal. Jason Kapono is most definitely human, flawed by his slow feet and inability to fly. But the six-foot-eight swingman possesses a laudable knack for pouncing on loose balls, plus an unselfish impulse for making the extra pass. He's a dexterous ballhandler and a fearless shooter, and he ranks as the league's best in three-point-shooting percentage winning All-Star weekend's three-point competition was no accident. With his superstar teammates, Kapono has formed a symbiotic relationship: By forcing defenders to come out to defend him, Kapono saves Shaq from double teams and opens up space for Wade to go soaring into the lane. Plus, on a team full of past-their-prime All-Stars (Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Eddie Jones, and, yes, Shaq), it's nice to have a goofy white guy hustling back on D like he's lucky to be in the league.
Chicago Bears (and former Gator) quarterback Rex Grossman put it best: "Jason Taylor is a beast." That utterance came after Taylor single-handedly whipped a then-undefeated Bears team. In the first half alone, Taylor intercepted a Grossman pass that he returned for a touchdown and, in the very next possession, sacked Grossman, forcing a fumble. It's just a shame that Taylor, at age 31, wasted his greatest year on a team that had no offense and a turncoat coach. It's also a shame that last May, Taylor had an encounter with a cracker named Redmond Charles Burns. In a road-rage incident near Davie, the five-foot-11, 168-pound Burns screamed racial epithets and threatened to kill the six-foot-six, 250-pound Taylor. Although Taylor is known for his off-field humanitarian work, his single greatest act of charity was resisting the impulse to snap Burns' neck.
After one year in the remote football exile known as the Canadian Football League, Williams is homesick for our Miami Dolphins, and superagent Leigh Steinberg is trying to make it happen. The question is, who's the real Ricky? Was that him in 2002, rushing for a league-leading 1,853 yards? Or was that him in 2004, when he retired from the league, abandoning what might have been a Super Bowl contender, ostensibly so he could live in an African hut and smoke several acres of ganja? It's hard to believe, but Williams didn't even turn 30 until this month. There might still be some gas in that tank. Unfortunately, the Dolphins running game is in the able hands of Ronnie Brown, so we might never know whether there's another side Ricky hasn't shown us.