Boys of summer bring dread, misery to fans

I was wearing a suit and tie and drinking Merlot at the Jersey Shore when “Don’t Stop Believing” played before the screen abruptly cut to black. What should have been the final moments of Tony Soprano’s life unfolding in the June finale of “The Sopranos” left people wondering what had just happened. What I didn’t know was that the finale also signaled the beginning of the end for the sports world in the summer of 2007.

Americans cared about soccer for about seven minutes, Pacman Jones stepped into the wrestling ring and, with arguably the worst NBA Finals in league history, another Tour de France doping allegation surfaced.

Then there were the untimely deaths of college basketball coach Skip Prosser and baseball coach Mike Coolbaugh and, of course, the ongoing saga of what sadly appears to be a cover-up in the Pat Tillman case. And who could forget about the abysmal Sportscenter’s “Who’s Now?” segments.

Of course, these tragedies have certainly been overshadowed by four men who have helped bury sports – or in one case, “sports entertainment” – six feet under in the summer of 2007: Chris Benoit, Mike Vick, Tim Donaghy and Barry Bonds. Take a look at those four names again. You look at them a second time through, and all you can think of is “double murder-suicide,” “illegal dogfighting operation,” “guilty of fixing NBA games” and “awkward congratulatory recording by Hank Aaron.” Not exactly the boys of summer Don Henley spoke of in 1984.

What the hell just happened? How did we get here? How can we recover from the boys of summer? Is that even possible?

As bad as this summer was for a sports fan, and believe me, it entered the Ben Affleck level of bad once the Donaghy scandal broke, this summer gave us feel-good stories such as the improbable comeback attempts of Jon Lester, Rick Ankiel and Priest Holmes, and brought us moments of happiness from the likes of Kevin Garnett, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn.

Heck, I still pull up Lebron James’ “My Lebrogative” performance from the ESPYs on YouTube when I need a good laugh, and I know you do too.

So, as we all prepare for fantasy football drafts, debate the merits of Andy Dalton as TCU’s starting quarterback and patiently wait for what has the potential to be a season for the ages from Gary Patterson and company, we must believe and keep hoping, as sports fans, that the fall will allow us to forget about the boys of summer.

But if that’s not possible, then the joy of fall sports will die a slower, more methodical death than that of everybody’s favorite New Jersey sociopath.