Why we should honor Travis Roy

ESPN's SportsCenter has become a whipping boy for a lot of media critics. You can use Google to find all the complaints. The general consensus is that it's not what it once was. On some levels, these complaints might have some merit. But on many others, they do not.

Having watched SportsCenter almost every day since it first came on the air in 1979 and having worked here since 1996, I think I have a good vantage point. Do I wish they showed more hockey highlights? Of course. But I think we all would agree it is getting better this year, and when the NFL is finished, it will get even better.

One area where SportsCenter has never been better is in its storytelling. The topics are often compelling, and the presentation is often flawless. Recently, SportsCenter gave its viewers an update on the life of Travis Roy. Roy gained national notoriety after shattering his C4/C5 vertebra just 11 seconds into his first shift of college hockey in a nationally televised game at Boston University in 1995. The resulting spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

In honor of Roy, we are running a column I wrote back in summer 2002. I played in the Travis Roy Foundation charity golf tournament for the first time that summer, and what follows is my account of that unforgettable day. For those of you who wish to donate to the Travis Roy Foundation or to hire Travis as a motivational speaker, go to travisroyfoundation.org.

Here is the column:

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.

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 1995 when he was paralyzed 11 seconds into his collegiate career. Roy fell headfirst 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 walk again someday. Avalanche forward Chris Drury, a teammate of Roy's at BU, has been there since the beginning, along with Drury's brother Ted. Michael Ferguson, a friend of all three men who helps run the event, called me Sunday to ask whether 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 a.m. 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 under way 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 my new foursome, 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 had 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 in him having a better season next year.

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-synching 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.

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 of things. A HUGE pet peeve of mine is athletes who sign their names sloppily. What makes Ted Williams even more of a baseball legend is the impeccable penmanship he had in signing in 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.

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.


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 likely will be spent 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 wheelchair 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 Dec. 10 column mentioned how I always thought my church and NHL hockey arenas gave off the same vibe in my preteen 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 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 their 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 wheelchair and how it all sucks. And 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.


The Mother of All Mailbags

Hey John,

How can Michel Therrien continue to coach the Penguins after his outburst??? Shouldn't he look in the mirror and realize that he, too, is responsible for the poor (putting it nicely) play of this team? The logical thing to do would be to let him coach until Mario is healthy and then hand him the reins (or let him hand himself the reins, whatever works).

This team is too talented and too expensive to be so terrible. As a Rangers fan, they remind me a lot of the 1998-2004 Rangers, except the Pens actually have some young talent that can be coached and used as a foundation for future success.

Brian Goldberg
New York, N.Y.

Mario Lemieux will never be a coach. He is management all the way. Coaching is a science and an art, and it can only be tackled with 100-percent commitment, focus and passion. Therrien has that. Emotion is his strength, and he should always coach with it. But he must also teach. The Penguins are not talented. Some of them might skate fast, some might shoot hard, some might play hard and some might be experienced, but few do all of those things collectively. Hard work is a talent. Courage is a talent. Perseverance is a talent. Caring is a talent. Commitment is a talent. The Penguins might be talented one day. They are not right now.


Why so much bad press for Ilya Kovalchuk for his finger-point at Sidney Crosby? Angry claims that he is immature are killing me. I don't watch hockey to see maturity. If I want to watch maturity, I'll check out some reruns of the "Golden Girls." Heaven forbid a hockey player actually sincerely expresses his emotions after scoring instead of repressing them. It's a game and it's entertainment. Let loose Ilya!


Great call, Jeff. I believe in sportsmanship and class, but I also believe in passion and competitiveness. Although Sidney Crosby's immense talent is a great gift for the NHL, his competitiveness is a greater one. That is why true hockey fans and true sports fans watch. To watch the best in the world compete. Crosby is loved by Penguins fans and viciously hated by nearly everyone else. That's because he cares so much. He whines because he cares so much. He draws penalties because he cares so much. Kovalchuk and Crosby play with their hearts on their sleeves, and that is why they are loved and hated. Villains are good for hockey. They get fans to care. They make the games more exciting.


I was wondering how you feel about blasting the Carolina Hurricanes with your preseason rankings and seeing them today as one of the best teams in the league. I've been following hockey for a very long time, and it disappoints me a little that you are very quick to criticize them, but hardly ever make a good comment about the team (Now, I give you credit for making good comments about the players).

Thank you!
Rudy Padilla

The Hurricanes are a wonderful story, and Peter Laviolette is neck and neck with a few others for coach of the year. He has taken young players, established Hurricanes and free-agent signings, and hit the ice skating. Is it any wonder the Islanders only made the playoffs during Mike Milbury's tenure when Laviolette was coach? Eric Staal took a huge leap in one year. Matt Cullen is having a career year. So is Justin Williams. Rod Brind'Amour is going to have a career season in power-play goals. Erik Cole is having his best season. It is a great story in Raleigh. A well-coached team, getting the most out of players and the players stepping up with their best season to date.


Any early word on which rules changes the NHL feels are working, and which ones aren't? I still don't like the restrictions on where the goalie can play the puck. If a goalie can skate well enough wearing all that gear and can handle his stick, why take that skill away from them by only allowing them to play the puck behind the net? Plus, all that's doing is forcing them to play it every time it's behind the net since they can't wander into the corners.

Mike Marino
Nashville, Tenn.

Taking out the red line was the best rule change. As long as interference is not allowed, it will be a positive change. If they allow the subtle interference to creep back in -- and it is -- then we will see more and more shutouts, as we are now. The current standard being used to call penalties at the start of the season was not a rule change. It was always there, just ignored. The shootout televises well and gives regular-season games punctuation. I would add five more minutes of four-on-four in overtime. The tag-up gives the game flow, and hopefully USA Hockey will follow suit soon and restore it to its rulebook. I agree I would change the trapezoid to a rectangle to take away the silly call. A long pass from the goalie to a forward is an exciting play, and by moving the lines out a little, we might see more of them.


I'm a big fan of the column and I agree with your point that political views are no reason to boo youth hockey players. However, in the same mailbag, you write that you know you would have done the same as Jack Johnson and thrown an elbow at [Steve] Downie's head in the same situation, but you don't condone it. So, you can't see yourself booing youth hockey players for political reasons, but you can see yourself elbowing a fellow hockey player in the head? I hope you wanna rethink that one.


Marc, what I said is if, at the end of a hard-fought, passionate game, someone from the other team tapped me in the back of the leg after his team scored an empty-net goal, I would have reacted the same way Johnson did. Again, it might not be the admirable thing to do, or the right thing to do, but as an athlete, that's how I would have reacted. Hockey is the most emotional game ever devised by man. It's not advisable to make hockey players angry because they will react.

Hey Bucci,

When are all of the East Coast writers going to start giving some credit to Marek Svatos of the Avs for the Calder trophy? He is currently tied for most goals by a rookie (26). Plus he already has eight game-winning goals. Where's the love?


He is certainly in the mix, Deron. He has plenty of professional experience, although he has missed a lot of games because of shoulder injuries and will turn 24 this summer. He also doesn't have to carry his teams the way Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have to. They are their teams' best player and get the most attention from their opponents. Svatos will start getting that attention now. If he continues to produce, and it's hard to imagine why he wouldn't, he can win the award. Coaches play their best players. Joel Quenneville will play Svatos more and in more important situations. He'll start getting attention now.


First off, [John] LeClair can't end up back in Philly. When a player is bought out of a contract, he cannot go back to the original team the following season. That's a good thing for the Flyers.

Voorhees, N.J.

Good call, Brian. My bad. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite ... idiot!

Hey John,

I think the Bruins should go for a complete youth movement. Get younger, faster and build around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Stuart, and Hannu Toivonen. I think they have some good, young players that can succeed in the "new" NHL, but I think they need much more team speed. Do you agree that they should clean house and start over?


Mike and Mike and the Mourning Show will not be back in Boston next year. Maybe not next week. I was at the Joe Thornton reunion game in Boston last week and found: (1) Stuart is very good and was the best defenseman on the ice; (2) Bergeron is a star; (3) David Tanabe doesn't touch the ice when he skates (he is so smooth). The Bruins have decent parts to their team, but they are not all coming together. And they lack the fulcrum on the ice to bring it all together. Is it coaching? Unfortunately for Mike Sullivan, something either already happened as you read this or will soon.


Can you just touch Barry's Saskatoon mud flap on the air for us? Please!

Jim Gonzalez
Alhambra, Calif.

If I put my hand in Barry's salad, I could never get it out. That man is part otter, part Valvoline.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.