Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Goon Squad Dev Diary--A Night with the Best Fans at NDP

   If you ever wondered who the gang of guys was who frontlines the Dog Pound at every basketball game, you are about to find out. This is the Goon Squad, a private organization formed by Goon Captain Brooks Brennan as a unit that is totally separate from the Dog Pound, and a unit that “is about making the other players feel little.” Brennan would continue, “We want to act as stupid as possible, and [we’re about] going super-hard at basketball games.”
   Anyone who has been to a Notre Dame road game this season can understand. Fans at other schools are known for being particularly personal and nasty, and the goal of the Goon Squad is to clearly create a Notre Dame home court advantage that can rival anyone’s in the league. These guys are not there to be nice and cheer “go team” or any of that nonsense. They want to enter the heads of the opposition, and sometimes it takes some edgier styles of fandom to do it.
   Of course, the NDP athletic department has taken notice of their antics, and the Goon Squad has been in severe danger of being disbanded on multiple occasions. “We’ve had e-mails sent to us from parents of other teams. We demanded two security guards the second game. It was crazy,” said Brennan.
   Nic Orlando, another member of the Squad, voiced his disapproval over the hostility, saying, “We’re a league of extraordinary gentlemen.”
   In any case, the Notre Dame varsity basketball team asked me to investigate the Goon Squad for myself, and hopefully try to alleviate some of the heat being sent in their direction. I spoke to Brooks Brennan about it, and before I knew it, I had been invited to come out to a game and be an honorary member of the Squad. Snap-back and all. Of course I agreed.
   What follows is my account of the NDP-Coronado basketball game back on Friday, January 20, from the middle of some of the craziest fans I have ever been around. I headed into the gym nervous and apprehensive, but I came out with the firm opinion that this was one of the best sporting events I have ever been to at NDP.
   These are some guys who go hard in the paint.

6:59—Madame Bradley checks my student ID at the door just as the other check-in gal is about to wave me through. Clearly my snap-back, notebook, and pocketful of pens were not enough clues. She must not be a reader.

I wonder how much trouble I will get into with comments like that.

7:00—I sight the Goon Squad at the front of the Dog Pound. As I approach, Brooks Brennan announces my arrival, and I am surprised with some cheers from the guys. They did not last as I swapped my t-shirt for Avery Korth’s practice jersey and the sarcastic (I hope) moans began, but it was all in good fun.

                Then Duncan Morfitt stuck me way out on the end of his row, which is arguably the worst place to be for someone writing an article about the shenanigans of a group of fans.  Thanks man.

7:01—The Saints win the tip-off, and immediately you can feel the Goon Squad begin to smell out its prey on Coronado. This will be fun.

7:02—After Grant “Freak of Nature” Martinez (incredibly appropriate, if you ask me, and it was even more appropriate with that haircut he had a while back) lays in an easy bucket, Coronado comes down the court and tosses up a three. No good. Shouts of “Ew!” emerge from the Squad, and I still cannot tell you if it was because the shot was so bad or the kid was so ugly, because both descriptions applied.

                You will notice that I will be the most judgmental in this article then possibly any other. Blame it on the company I keep.

7:03—Nicky “Knee Brace” Sarandrea nails his first steal of the game. Thievery.

7:05—Just as he makes it two steals, Kevin Vitaro shows up in a purple morph suit. The Goon Squad approves.

7:07—Sarandrea scores his third steal, and on the ensuing Coronado possession, I notice Kelvin “The Franchise” Pilot is rocking the goggles. I like that, very Kareem-esque.

                You know what else is Kareem-esque? An And-1 by KP. The Squad is beginning to taste its prey. We lock in on two Coronado players: Salad Bowl and McGluvin. The former obtains his name from a classic looks-like-your-mom-gave-it-to-you haircut, and the latter because . . . well just because he looked like a tool. And he was awful. And very pale. We hated him.

                Ladies and gentleman: Coronado’s finest.

7:10—Andrew Thomas scores a lay-up to extend the lead. Love that kid.

7:11—Two warnings so far from Mrs. Rueben. The Goon Squad does not take heed. Good. I was a fan of the salad bowl chant.

                Parker Zellers spits out the quote of the night as a Coronado player shoots a free throw, “Hey! Number two! You’re gonna miss! You know why? Because you suck!”

                He was promptly sent to the figurative penalty box of the Squad by Mrs. Rueben. You will see later that a tally for this sort of thing will become necessary.

7:14—Mrs. Rueben takes a permanent post at court level down to my left. As more people arrive and join the Squad, Duncan Morfitt is very gradually boxing me out into the aisle. I need to make a move sooner or later, this will simply not do.

7:15—The ‘stache man shows up; the Goon Squad refers to this individual as Mustache Guy. He throws the gang a grin and a wave, which is greeted by cheers and cat calls to the babe who is accompanying him. Apparently he has a different woman with him every time he shows up. I do not doubt it. His facial hair was humbling. I think when he sat down every man within twenty feet of him rose and moved away out of pure shame. I would have.

7:19—A Coronado player passes the ball to freaking nobody and watches pathetically as it rolls out of bounds. Athlete.

                A chant ensues: Fundamentals! Fundamentals! Fundamentals!

                Mrs. Rueben tries to silence Goon Captain Brooks Brennan, but he pretends not to hear her and keeps going. The mark of a true leader folks: tough under duress.

                Did you know that “duress” was a theology vocabulary word last semester? Facepalm.

7:20—Ryan Riggs shows up in an orange morphsuit. No. Just no. That is arguably worse than the Father Phil-LSU jacket debacle. At least in the same vein.

                Then I notice his LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. Tasteless. He takes over the top spot in the Most Exasperating Spirit Attire Award. I just made that up. There is no award. It does not deserve an award. The whole ensemble deserves a burning.

                Nothing personal.

Two bottom guys: very good. Top guy: not so much.

7:22—Dan Ziemann sinks the first three of the night to the glee of the Goon Squad. The Saints lead 33-7. Man, this game is shaping out to be worse than the BCS Championship game (zing).

                Andrew Turner seems to run every insult he thinks of by somebody for approval before he spits it out. I feel like he has had a history of embarrassing calls. I choose to stay quiet for the most part, mostly because I knew everything I would say on here was going to be enough.

7:23—The ever-industrious NDP cheer squad is belting it out over on the sidelines. They are in the middle of a cheer when the ball rolls out of bounds (I assume a Coronado player screwed up, I mean come on) and heads toward Kara Tapia. She simultaneously dodges the ball and continues cheering at the same time. Not even phased. She is one of the girls who is thrown into the air, and I have always thought that was gutsy, so I will go ahead and call it an athletic move by Kara Tapia in adapting to that situation. Bring on the haters.

7:24—Number 22 on Coronado wins the Attitude Award. He is starting to give the Goon Squad nasty looks. Good, that means we are in his head. I looked up his name: Garrett Wimer. I am not sure which pronunciation is funnier: WHY-mer or WEE-mer. I like the latter, because let’s be honest, it sounds like wiener. I wish we had known this.

                By the way, Wimer-schnitzel averages 1.1 points per game. Balla!

                Parker Zellers, who has since returned from his momentary exile in the penalty box, begins singing some Sk8er Boi, and he was not bad.

                Just kidding, he was horrible.

7:25—Tom Archer arrives, and Duncan quickly points out that his hair lacks its usual elevation (it was not peaking properly, hate when that happens). Tom tries in vain to fix it. I think it secretly bothered him for the rest of the night. Perfect hair, both a blessing and a curse I suppose.

7:27—I notice that an elderly couple sitting just across the aisle from the front row of the Goon Squad is cheering for Coronado. This begs a question: are all people from that part of town total idiots?

7:29—There have been numerous headache complaints among the Goon Squad. I do not ask for an explanation.

7:30—Brooks Brennan calls for the cheer squad to “Get a little bit rowdy” but to no avail. This results in the Squad ripping into a few Coronado players (Hey! Tell your girlfriend I said thanks!), and the massacre begins.

                Duncan is called down by Mrs. Rueben, but not sent to the box. I take his seat.

7:32—Tom Archer is sent to the penalty box, and he is promptly followed by repeat offender Parker Zellers for some sort of expletive. Both fallen brothers are applauded, and the massacre is over. The rest of us are given a talking-to by the wonderful Ms. Barrett, who explains that the referee is threatening to start issuing technical fouls if our antics continue.

                Speaking of the ref, all I remember about our involvement with him is that we politely disagreed on a few minor calls and sent him some compliments about his excellent hair. He used mousse. I bet even Tom Archer felt threatened.

7:33—Danny Stolper shows up in a purple morph suit. This division of the Goon Squad is looking to redeem themselves. Thank God.

                At the half, it is 36-17 Notre Dame. The Goon Squad definitely makes an impact, I can tell you that. The Dons of Coronado were clearly phased.

7:35—The halftime show begins, and all I will tell you is that it consisted of a junior cheerleader’s organization doing something or other to raise breast cancer awareness. But with the moves they were . . . there are more appropriate ways to spread awareness for the disease. Just saying. We will not discuss what things were said over in the Goon Squad during this time.

7:40—Duncan leaves to go say hey to somebody, and I move down the line in order to be more centralized for the second half. I have a great spot.

7:43—While the teams warm up, the officials bang heads at center court, and we can see that they keep looking over at us and pointing in our direction. We wave. They did not wave back. Still liked the one guy’s hair though.

7:44—The half begins, and Duncan promptly returns and physically lifts my skinny self clear out of my new spot and plunks me down into the old edge-of-the-row location. I felt used.

7:45—It was not a minute later when Monica Barrett sends Duncan to the penalty box for totally-unrelated unsportsmanlike behavior. I felt bad for about five seconds until I moved down the row again. And there I stayed.

7:50—The Squad tries to make things a little more personal with Coronado, so Brooks Brenna looks up #1 on his phone. His name: Ashiwome Abadjivor. You cannot make this stuff up, folks. We try calling out to him with different pronunciations, but we finally see a nibble when we yell out A-SHE-WAH-ME. His frustration would mount. It was hilarious. I personally enjoyed the line, “Hey, excuse me, Ashiwome? I hope to God you have a nickname. And I hope to God its Ashiwow-wow!”

7:54—Andrew Turner is sent to the penalty box after yelling at Salad Bowl that he was adopted. I do not think further comment is necessary.

7:55—Parker Zellers is ejected from the game by Rueben. He is forced to sit at the far end of the bleachers with the company of Mrs. Gjerstad. A chant to “Free Parker!” soon erupts, but alas, it was all for naught. We tried to get his little brother to grab his jersey and come over and take his place, but the little guy chickened out. Obviously not Goon Squad material.

8:01—I see the Kelvin Pilot is wearing what looks like three pairs of Nike socks. All are of different lengths so you can clearly see the swoosh on each pair. I feel like Nike knows it would make a killing if it released socks that had multiple swooshes on them, but they purposefully do not because they want you to buy more socks. Interesting.

8:03—Connor Gallagher begins pacing in front of the Goon Squad on court level. We make eye contact. I look away. That kid still scares me to death. I think he wants to hurt me, and I have no idea why. I do not want to ask either.

8:10—Coming up the court on a new Saints possession, Salad Bowl fails to make the defensive play and suddenly begins yelling at KP. Yelling. He asked for it.

                The next thing I remember is a pure assault of noise as the Goon Squad tears into him for talking some smack to The Franchise. “You think you got a big mouth? Put this in your mouth!” and “Get him, KP!” and “Hey congrats for finally using such adult language, Salad Bowl!” were only some of the less intense things I pulled out of the storm of insults. Most everything else involved some connotation of the f word, and According to Dazz is not at liberty to disclose such comments. But your imagination will do just fine.

8:13—Then, the moment we had all been waiting for, fan-favorite Avery “AK-47” Korth comes into the game along with my jam-session buddy Kirk Iserman. Korth’s number is not even 47, but I think the nickname is badass, so there you are.

                Kirk lays one in on the ensuing possession. I promised myself I would send him a shout-out. He looked good out there.

8:14—Next possession, Avery Korth drives in the lane. He has a chance to score! The Goon Squad tenses—come on! A Coronado defender is in a good position (Imagine that, right?), but Korth adapts, the shot floats up off of his finger tips and . . .  IN AND OUT!

                The ball toilet-bowled off of the rim in the midst of a chorus of groans and moans from the Goon Squad. That was the one. Damn.

8:15—Jesse Gildner comes in, also a fan-favorite. I am surprised he does not bring his music out on the floor with him. He takes that stuff everywhere.

                Then, Kirk Iserman takes the ball up the court. Remembering his recent drive to the basket, Coronado sinks back into the key, leaving Avery Korth all by himself in the corner. Kirk starts to drive. The defense bites. The ball goes out to Avery. Alone. This is it. Another chance for our guy.

                Avery lines up, jumps, and releases the shot. My heart stops. Some of the Squad holds up the three fingers. Some of the Squad hangs their wrists in the air, mimicking his release. Some of the Squad just watches, hoping, praying. He has to make it. He has to.

                The ball peaks in its arc. Falling down, down, down.

 Do you believe in miracles?



                The front row of the Goon Squad jumps to the court, and myself and the second row leap over the first row to court level as well, jumping up and down and yelling and screaming and holding those threes in the air. I lose my hat. My notes tear. I do not care. It was unbelievable. It made the whole night.

8:20—Parker Zellers rejoins the Squad for the final minute. I guess they all find their way back home eventually, right?

8:21—Ball game. Notre Dame Saints 74, Coronado Scrubs 42.

   At first glance, you might see the Goon Squad as a group of guys who are clearly up to no good, but there is more that lies beneath the surface with these men. At the end of the day, this is just a bunch of guys who are here to support their buddies on the basketball team by providing an unmistakable home court advantage. “It makes a huge difference, we’ve never had crowds like this. It drives us to play even better, work even harder. It’s just great to know we have so much support from our fans,” said Dan Ziemann.  

   If you have a problem with their methods, that is too bad, because from what I experienced, they will not change for anybody.

   The Goon Squad is what Notre Dame has been looking for all of this time. I sat down with Monica Barrett at the beginning of the year, and she voiced that she believed basketball season to be the biggest challenge to NDP school spirit. Well I think we have more than answered that call, and the Goon Squad is largely to blame. Our school finally has hardcore fans, and I think that denying these people their cheering rights just because of a few taunts toward the other team would be a disservice to our athletic program. Notre Dame needs to prove that we can be rough and tough and that we can hang in there and talk smack with the rest of them. If it is image you are worried about, never fear, because what these guys are providing is spirit driven by spirit, and not spirit driven by malice or hate.

   That is key. While other fan bases jeer simply for the sake of being a bunch of toolbags, the Goon Squad jeers at the opponent because we love our boys down on the court, and we want to support them.

   I went into the Saints’ locker room after the game, and the first person I spoke to was Avery Korth. He was still smiling. I asked him about his shot, and he came over and made sure I wrote down exactly what he wanted me to write, “I saw the Goon Squad ready to charge the court. I popped the [shot] . . . I did it for the fans.”

   The fans did it for Avery too. These are the moments that define the Goon Squad. Without the Squad, that shot was just about meaningless. The Saints were up big, and all we were doing was running out the clock, so to speak. But with the Goon Squad cheering on every player from the full-time starters to the back of the bench, that shot meant everything. It was one of the coolest moments of the year, and I guarantee you that because of the reaction it had from the crowd, Avery Korth will remember that moment for a long time.

   The Goon Squad may look to psyche out the other team, but more than anything, they are about making our guys feel like superstars. They are Notre Dame fans, pure and simple. We need them. The team needs them. So cut them some slack, because they can make the little moments feel like the big moments.

To quote Andrew Thomas on what the Goon Squad means to the team, “Everything. Not one three was made in [their] corner the entire season.”

No comments:

Post a Comment