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Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's all in the Celebration

Dear Nick and Ben,

Your mom is a World Champ. :)

Well, in a roundabout way.  I didn't shed one drop of sweat or have to apply on the field what was discussed.  I didn't have to make sure my hydration and nutrition and sleep and mentality and guts were all in check.  But I felt as if I was on that field with every touch of the ball, with every run and most definitely with every save.

To watch our team COMPETE in every sense of the word was inspiring.  To watch the skill and composure in an environment that is foreign to our players compared to our European foes: their WC Qualifications are 18 months long.  Many of the foreign players are professional playing in some of the best pro-leagues in the world. Our players are club players, playing in tournaments that last a weekend, or in college playing  a 20 - 26 game season with limited training hours mandated by the NCAA. However, when it comes to rolling up the sleeves, enjoying the challenge and competing, we seemed as if we were the veterans.  A team of veterans, watching each other's back, trusting each others decisions and simply going for it. That is "Sport" at its best.

Jaime Frias, Janet Rayfield, April Heinrichs, Amy Griffin, Steve Swanson
People have asked me if being on staff and winning a World Cup is even close to as exciting as winning as a player.  I thought the answer would be 'no'.  However, the commitment of the team, the growth, the love and respect that grew and was earned over time made this experience every bit as memorable as the 1991 World Championship that I also was fortunate to share with teammate, and now "coaching teammate", April Heinrichs.

A few of the many lessons the players and staff taught me.

1)  You don't ever have to be perfect or have your best game, but you can always be extraordinary.
2)  Sleep is overrated and coffee is like oxygen....that is for the staff!
3)  When every person does all they can all of the time success is attainable.
4)  Cohesiveness all of the time, is essential.
5)  There is comfort and confidence in being prepared.

The celebration.  A few months ago when the team qualified in Panama, the celebration was... kind of a dud.  Out on the field individuals wandered around staring at sad Canadians and feeling relieved they had won aimlessly wondering, "what do we do now?"  It wasn't until the ceremony was over, the trophy had been lifted and we finally straggled back to the locker room with our inner circle of people that a slight celebration broke out.   The looks on their faces seemed to say, "Is it okay if we shout?"
Slowly but surely the crescendo of happiness became apparent, but in my book... still very lame.

Many fitness tests, training logs, pressure moments, hydration tests, bus rides, foam rolling sessions, gut checks, trust issues, homesick bouts, lost hotel keys, passport checks, ice baths later, another trophy was hoisted.  This time the celebration much different: it was pure joy! Everyone was sprinting, hugging, crying, dancing.  The German team laid on the ground forever, right up until they had to step onto the silver platform, with Japan on the bronze. The USA group shouted and danced up to the top step, received their award and continued the celebration while most the fans left the stadium.  FIFA officials could tell we were not close to exiting and commented, "We are going to begin cleaning the stadium but you are welcome to stay as long as you like."  Stay we did.  The players made snow angels in the confetti and stuffed some in their bras for mementos.  They weren't looking for friends and family in the stands until well after the celebration.  They wanted this moment with their teammates, their US Soccer sisters!

The bonds, the trust, the teamwork the love that had formed and been worked at over the year stood out to me and was just as tangible as the World Cup Trophy. By the time the stretching and ice baths and post game rituals ended we did not arrive back into the hotel until close to 11:00 PM.  On the bus ride back, windows were rolled down for pedestrians to hear, "Hey Tokyo!!!!  We are World Champs!" An exhausted, drained, content team sat happily and ate their last dinner at the hotel.  No more mandatory chicken, salmon, rice, veggies, fruit, yogurt, or  peanut butter as the "go to" 2nd option.  Tomorrow we would pack, turn in uniforms check out and head to a karaoke place where we had rented a room to eat dinner and sing to our hearts content before boarding the plane. 

One of my most memorable moments happened at the Karaoke place.  Dinner was average as well as the singing, but a good time was had by all.  We had time for one more song and the request was "Don't Wake Me Up" which was a popular song in the locker room and the song that was played while the team was on the Gold Medal podium.  When they heard the first notes of the song they jumped out of their seats and it was as if they were right back at the stadium screaming their lungs and hearts out to the song!   But what happened next that was unplanned and surprised everyone was what I will always remember.

Right in the middle of the song while everyone was jumping and singing in a circle and looking into each others eyes,  the tears began to flow.  Happy tears? No not happy, but sad tears.  The unspoken words at the same instant were comprehended by everyone.  It was over.  This team, this dream was over.  The journey was what made these bonds, and how lucky and deserved they were for reaching their dream.  Not many people get to do that... be the best in the world.  The tears, for me, made me so happy that these wonderful young adults achieved their dream.  The lessons were not lost on them.  Forever, these players will seek each other out on the soccer field, in each others hometowns and whenever the chance arises.  Not because they have their gold medal in common, but because they got out of this experience exactly what they put into it: everything. Dont Wake Me Up (please click)

Going back home for me has been bittersweet.  I feel empty and sad leaving the people with whom I have been attached at the hip. Leaving Japan with an exhilaration that I  know I will never be able to fully explain to everyone. It has meant so much to me.   I am happy and excited to see my families... the ones I am related to and the Dawgs.
Remembering that sitting down at dinner with the family is a treat and sitting on the bench at a game is a great place to be and a privilege.  Thanks for helping me keep my sanity Ben and Nick.  Sitting and writing this has been my "deep breath" and helping me keep things in perspective.  You get out of life what you put into it and if you put everything into it... please, please celebrate!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Do Dreams Come True?

Before we talk about the last few days of events, let me post a few pics.  Another reason I love Japan is they have the technology beyond the 21st century, but their culture of respect of people and nature, health and happiness is engrained in them no matter how fast the technology. 
"I caught a fish!" 

Have you ever seen a smaller dishwasher?

Dry ice inside your grocery bag before you head home . 
Tokyo has about 13.2 million people and the architecture, waterways and highways are gorgeous.  The city seems to be on levels; there is one city underground that is functional, pristine and attached to the trains and subways.

Another city at street level and then a few more above the street where freeways go through hotel buildings and you can drive forever without getting stuck in traffic; the pedestrians are below.

The Nigerian team was a stark contrast from our previous foe.  The N. Koreans regimented on and off the field. You could feel the weight of their country they carried with them as they marched to the field.  That alone was intimidating.  On the other end of the spectrum, Nigeria danced and sang right up until the FIFA introduction came over the stadium’s speakers to drowned out the steel drum cadence the fans produced. 

I no longer cry just when I hear the Star Spangled Banner.  I get a little choked up when the FIFA anthem plays as well as our opponents’ anthems.  I have either been gone too long, getting my period, or simply am happy to have this experience.  I love the music, the colors, the flags, the game.

Nigeria does not support their women’s teams to the extent US Soccer supports ours.  With the US Soccer crest comes a fair amount of pressure, especially on the heels of the full team’s Olympic gold medal.  If one was counting, the 4 of the 6 Olympic medals have been placed around the necks of the Americans.  Whether it is talked about or not, the pressure is there.  A different kind of pressure than I believe Korea DPR feels, but pressure nonetheless. 

The Nigerians?  They were excited to have the opportunity to wear the uniform, get together and play. Some players come from bigger cities while others come from villages on the outskirts of town where tops are not a necessity, let alone a jersey.  The last U20 World Cup the USA lost to Nigeria in P.K.s.  The Nigerians may not have the training camps or the experience.... nor do they have the pressure.  What they do have is the passion, the speed, the athleticism and individual skills they can master on their own without the extraordinary history of success sitting on their conscience. 

While our team seemed tense (an understatement) in the locker room, the Falconettes smiled as if the victory was already theirs.  They were a tough opponent and gave us less than a breath to receive the ball and dish it off before the pressure surrounded each player.  However, after 90 minutes of a game and what seemed like 48 hours of built up stress; the smiles appeared.  To the finals: 

Once upon a time a group of young women and their staff sat in a meeting room.  The meeting room was sparse, the players disheveled, each with a notebook they were asked to bring.  In each notebook were a few blank pieces of paper.

They sat in their chairs and listened to the new coach as he rambled on about team rules, expectations and what we needed to learn in order to have success on the world stage.  A few doodlers had scribbled a “USA” or a United confirmation number haphazardly here and there.  Steve Swanson mentioned that following this info was the route to get to play in the 7:20 PM game in Tokyo on Sept 8th

Now, the notebooks are full.  Training logs, fitness goals, game notes, quotes, individual tasks, daily schedules, systems of play, situational play, raps, notes from teammates reside underneath the US Soccer Logo that covers the notebook.  Players arrive early for the meetings and I can see them flip through the ream of notes.  “Hey Cari, remember when April said this…?” or “Remember when we didn’t know the principles of defense!” 
Sarah Killion: Enough rice. Time for a spaghetti sandwich

Morgan Brian and Vanessa DiBernardo try not to act like they are not sick of my camera
Many of the faces are the same, but the people behind the faces are different.  They know the answers before Steve asks. Solutions to “what if” situations are readily available.  And they will be playing at 7:20 PM in Tokyo on Sept 8th.   At different times since our last game, it has seeped into the players that their dream is within their reach. 

The one thing in our way is the German team; the same team that hammered us in group play 3-0.  When our staff walked off the field the only thing we mumbled under our breath was, “We want to shake their hand in the final.”  We will have that opportunity.

Aaron Heifitz, our press officer is currently checking with FIFA to see if the team will be allowed to walk out during the anthems with the red, white and blue leis made up of 100 paper cranes the students gave to the players in Hiroshima.   Their wish is that the cranes and the message of hope and world peace make it to the podium for the world to see.   Come on FIFA…. Let there be cranes!  When this journey began, never thought my mantra would be remotely close to "Let there be cranes!" Maybe I will just stick with the phone conversation I had with my soon to be 11 year old.

Swearing is not a common occurrence in our home, but I admit when I am coaching (and when I was playing) every now and then a curse word would slip out and I felt a bit better.   Nicholas was on the phone and he mentioned, "Mom, if you are going to be gone this long, just go win the damn thing."  

Can't wait to kick balls at the keepers, listen to the music boom throughout the stadium, check out the faces and watch our team lace up their cleats while they put their game faces on.  

If I am going to be away from home.. for this moment in time, there is no other place I'd rather be.


Monday, September 3, 2012

To Tokyo

Ben and Nick. You are always on my mind 

A few things that were at the forefront of my mind that I chose not to post PRE-Korea DPR match.

  • 13 players on their roster were on the Olympic Team
  • 8 of them were starters
  • 4 years ago US U17 Team lost to KoreaDPR in the last few minutes of the championship game. 
  • I hate putting my underwear in with the team laundry because then I have to get it... at the same time as the players. 
Our team behind the gigantic stadium reminded me of how daunting our task would be
A few other things that were weighing into the back of my mind were the days leading up to our match.  It was no coincidence that our dining hall that seated all 4 teams had one vacant quadrant; marked by the N.Korean flag.  We knew they were either on there way, or had just left by the trail of security guards and police.  Unlike any other hotel, our hotel in Saitama was surrounded with guards.  The floor their team stayed on had all televisions and computers removed.  Our coordinator, Matt Barton, filled me in on the stat of 400 extra security guards at our game. 

None of these thoughts left my brain.  While on the inside, I was anticipating a war at 7:30 PM, on the outside I was attempting my cool, calm collective nature by marveling at the spaghetti patties we were served pre-game.  Just a quick dunk in hot water and they are ready to be scarfed.

The game was as tough as I thought it would be.  The Koreans had a portion of the stadium chanting and beating their noise makers in unison. They did not stop.  In rhythm with their fans, their team kept marching down the field.  The pace and accuracy of long balls and receptions on a dime reminded me, "I am at a frickin' World Cup!"  

Mandy Laddish and Chi Obogagu
 Against another opponent, it would have been deadly, but against the USA defense the constant attack became manageable.  So proud of our team to not only thwart off basically their Olympic Team, but to pull off a victory in overtime.  
Worthy of a Dawg pile, (Yes a "dawg"pile as the Huskies are still on a victorious 5-0 roll) I couldn't  help but look up at the big screen when the winning goal was scored.   What I saw I will remember.  Not a head held in hands, not a stomp of a foot.  Just a bench of sad young women.  They all slowly blinked in unison and did not move until the cacophony of the match completely ended and they were escorted of the field. Once again, I am reminded by the place I get to return to, and am thankful.

I have been on the losing side of an important match many times, but it never had the feel or the look that this loss had to our opponent. 

So today... we take on Nigeria.  And once again, my thoughts will stay with me as I hop on the bus.  My thoughts about the game, that is.   As always, Nicholas and Benjamin... Am thinking of you on an hourly basis!  Miss and Love you!  Time to get on the bus to see Nigeria via Tokyo.  Life is good. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Time Flies

Bye the time many of you wake up and read this, our future will already be decided. However, I still find the need to write as it is therapeutic for me.  Sorry for the lack of posts.  I had one I "posted" but it never hit cyberspace.  What did we do before there was the internet?  Here is a quick re-cap.
We waved "Goodbye" to our friends in Hiroshima after  our 1-1 tie with China.  China broke through and found the net midway into the first half for one of their only chances all game. The US squad rallied to tie it up before the half and that is where the scoring ended.

China was much different than Ghana in their style, system and how they played against the U.S.A.  We would have preferred 3 points and a big "W" but there were valuable lessons learned against a team that posed a different set of circumstances to us.

Next, we boarded a plane to Miyagi with the German team.  Our new digs were just as hospitable as Hiroshima.  The day we arrived, we visited Yuriage,  a community that was engulfed by the tsunami  2011.  Ninety percent of the houses were destroyed.  900 of the  people were killed in a city of 7,000 and many are still missing.   People are struggling with how to deal with the devastation.  The news reports and cameras have disappeared and there is anxiety about what to do next.

Yuriage's  Center of Hope 

There is a prefab room that has been erected where people can go to reflect, "re-create their memory" cry and be together.  They describe their own demeanor as "sluggish" This community is at a stand still.  Some do not want to rebuild for fear they will find remnants of loved ones.  Our team heard stories and watched a video of the houses and townspeople getting carried away. We all saw similar clips on CNN when the tsunami rolled in, but standing with some of the affected family members in their tiny portable made if feel as if it was in my neighborhood.

Our team kept looking at the skeletons of foundations where homes used to be. Very few buildings were standing as we looked as far as the eye could see.

 A clock atop a middle school that has been untouched since the tsunami is a stark reminder of this travesty.

Hiromi, our liaison, explains the story behind the desk

Cpt. Julie Johnston pays respects
 Fourteen children from one small middle school perished.  We saw  2 school desks that a mother drug out to the front of the school.  They were the desks her children sat in every day.  She does not want this town to forget them, and thanks to US Soccer she has 35 more people that will carry these children in their hearts.   The desks have been their for 17 months and a marble desk/memorial has been added so that none of the children will be forgotten.

One woman was explaining to our group that many many younger people died unnecessarily.  She went on to say that the older generation that remembered and/or heard stories of earlier tsunami's and fled as soon as the sirens were blown.  The younger generation that did believe the seriousness of the stories also did not believe the siren.  When the wall of water was seen, it was too late to find safe ground.  Kids, listen to your parents and grandparents'.

Our team boarded the bus and headed to the hotel, looking out the window, still trying to imagine what it was like to have a wave take away 28,000 people. Each kilometer closer to our hotel marked one more blessing we were sure to count.

I loved the hotel because the Goddess of Mercy was looking over us; meaning I could leave our hotel and have a much better chance of not getting lost.  She is one of the dieties most frequently seen on altars.
our hotel :           Quan Yin
Her feet:  She is HUGE

Quan Yin means "She who always pays attention to the human cry. " A great hotel for the directionally challenged.  No longer did I have to say "We were staying by that one teriyaki place. You know.. that one where the bikes are parked and a Pachinko machine is close by.  Nope... I can literally see the statue from the stadium that is 30 minutes away.

Speaking of Goddess of Mercy... Clearly the Germans were staying at the same hotel and praying to the Goddess while I was merely using it for a meeting point.  The Germans handed to us a 3-0 loss. Instead of Okonomiyaki (delicious) and Sushi we found ourselves finding it difficult to eat Humble Pie with chopsticks.

As is with sports, the 3-0 score did not do justice to the many things we improved upon.  Our possession in the midfield against a great defense was fantastic.  On this day, we struggled and did not have our spunk in either of the 18 yard boxes.  As with most posts... I do not write to talk about the X's and O's.  There are enough Tweeters, Bloggers, ichatters, Facebookers  and arm chair quarterbacks,  I mean soccer afficionados going over our game so I do not need to go into detail.   All I know is I would love to see that team again.  And in order to do so, we need to beat Korea DPR in a few short hours.

Our next city... Saitama.  We scooted from Miyagi to Saitama via the bullet train.  Last year it was the Autobahn.  This year the Bullet Train.  Clean. Silent. Efficient. Fast.  I love them both.  Wish we had the technology to be shot around the U.S.  Oh... we do.

I don't have time to write about Saitama as it is time for me to board the bus for our game against North Korea.  I will say that wherever we go, we are greeted with kindness.  At each venue we give thanks and are sure to mention how, "Everyone has been so fantastic and generous and helpful." The reply is always the same, "This is our culture."

Many Japanese want to give thanks for all of the help the Americans have shown their country in difficult times.  There are signs of thanks in every stadium. We are greeted with waves and people scampering to help us with our luggage.  We are met with smiles and respect and of course, the bow.

It is already tomorrow for me in Japan and while I am here I will be cheering on the Huskies yesterday. :)  Lets hope we get a great win tonight!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Clean Living

I mentioned in the last post that there are many people living in a small country.  They are very conscious about their health.  For instance... there is no Diet Coke.  It is believed that the chemicals in Diet Coke are more dangerous to one's health compared to Coke Zero and regular Coke.  My guess is it is saccharin but I am not quite sure when I look at the can.  :)

When I mean there is no Diet Coke I am not kidding.  There are no Diet foods and/or sodas with saccharin like products.  It is illegal to have it in the country.  Come to think of it, we have known that saccharin is a cancer producing agent for some time...

Want to hear something else crazy? There are no public garbage cans.  This came about in 1995 after a gas subway attack occurred in Tokyo in which a gas bomb was tossed in a trash can.  What began is an antiterrorism measure has stuck around because it saves the government money.  I am just now getting used to the fact we must hold onto the gum wrapper, to-go cup, receipt  until I return to my hotel room.  Again, I need to remind you how many hundreds of thousands of people live here and the place is spotless; airports, malls, city streets, parks.

Okay, that was your tidbit on Japan for the day.  Now a bit about our first game.  The first 15 minutes did not go according to the script.   We dodged a bullet or two and struggled to possess the ball in the manner which we have been practicing. Maybe it was first game jitters, or that Ghana had some fast skillful players, or the heat or a combination of all of the above.  I don't mean for those to be excuses. We all know sports are unpredictable.  That is why we play and watch and cheer, because we are unsure of the outcome.
That is also why I have bags under my eyes, gray hairs and can't sleep at night.  Whether I am deemed good at my job or not is simply as the ball bounces.  Fun and frightening.

Okay, the  second half we came out more diligent on defense and a bit more sharp with our passes.   That seemed to help but the catalyst was Penn State forward, Maya Hayes who's shooting streak was as hot as the stadium that day scoring 3 of the USA's 4 goals.

The Ghanaians had some speed and skill and playing against them  will help us settle in for the next game; or at least that is the plan.  In the meantime, we will stop looking at every grocery store for diet coke and find a new and improved caffeine fix.
With so much down time for the players we try to make sure they don't get too stir crazy.  Coaching is fun, but I have always thought it is much more fun to be a player.  However, these players will do anything you ask (tee hee her) and they are competitive.  So... when you ask they to try to roll an oreo from their forehead into their mouth it is game on; no questions asked.  This might be one of the rare occasions it is more fun to be a coach. My favorite quote was from Sam Mewis who shouted to her teammate, "Use your instincts!" Not sure which instinct snaps into action when asked to perform this feat but many were born without it. 

I must say that the players aren't the only ones that get stir crazy.  It seems our trainers, Carrie and Elysia (goes by E-Money around these parts) are already showing signs of losing it.   Here is what I caught at a training session. It is my hope that by the end of our journey you will know more about Japan, the U20 USA soccer team as well as our the cast of character on our road show.  It might be due to the fact they test the players' urine, deal with their blisters, rub out their muscles, put suction cups on their aches and pains and listen to their stories about 18 hours a day.  It's enough to make anyone nuts.

China is our next opponent.  A team with size and skill that needs a victory since they lost to Germany in their opening game.  If we win, we will for sure advance into the quarter final rounds regardless of our 3rd round robin game so it is important.
After our match against China, we board a charter flight with Germany and head to Miyagi for our 3rd match.  We all will miss Hiroshima.  The people, scenery, accommodations, food have all been excellent.  What a great place to begin our journey.  The place where the paper crane originated.

Happy Birthday to Jack (greatest husband a traveling soccer mom could ask for) and Dad (the guy who said "good game" when I did okay... and not a word when I sucked.) Love you both very much.

Morgan Brian Heads toward Goal

Maya Hayes in Flight

"And if you spin like this... you get really dizzy..."

No Caption Necessary :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time to prepare is over. Time to perform is now.

The Bow.  I love the bow.  A nice gesture for all occasions and all people.  A show of sincere respect and gratitude.  It can also mean "Congratulations, I'm sorry, please, many thanks," A 5 to10 degree bow is a casual, informal "Hello," similar to our "'Sup?" The most common is a 30 degree angled bow to greet customers or thank someone.  A more formal bow is performed at about 45 degrees while looking down at your feet which is a sign of deep gratitude, formal apology or asking for a favor.  There is eye contact, however slight, but it is there and it is friendly and subtle and heartfelt.

Janet, My "Cho" Roommate- Means "Super" in Japanese
My roommate, Janet,  helped a women down the stairs with her walker and she bowed ever so slowly 3 times.  So deep intact,  I thought she had dropped something.  I bent down to look for the dropped item... at which point she bowed to what she thought was my bow.  I, of course, wanted to show my respect at her bowing to me, so gave her a few deep bows of my own.

It is easy to get used to. It flows, it comes from the inside out.  I like to bow.  I think of our formal hand shake,  or the manly hand clasp with interlocked thumbs, followed by shoulder to shoulder bumper-hug.  We cannot forget the awkward hug when you think you were going in for a hug but your friend did not. You hesitate for a split second but realize you cannot back out of it.  I cannot imagine what the Japanese people think of our popular 'pound me'  followed by a "blow it up" for special occasions.

 A few days ago a small group of young men from a a local university gathered to give each player a necklace made of red, white and blue cranes and read the story of Sadako.
The Big Arch Stadium in background is ready for us.
They spoke of how Hiroshima continues to be a leader in spreading world peace.  It is their hope that the U.S.A. plays their way to the final and players can wear the necklaces on the podium for the world to see.  The 3 other teams staying in Hiroshima (Ghana, China and Germany) also received similar necklaces in colors representing their country. Cranes = Peace = Hiroshima  This is their message. 
Amongst tears and thank you's our team was very grateful.  "This is the best memento I have ever received," I overheard as the players carefully placed them on the bench before training began.

There is not a lot of space here in Japan.  The country is 11% smaller that the state of California.  The population of Japan is roughly 130 million.
To avoid long ramps for cars to find parking, vehicles take the elevator
 It would be like putting 40% of the U.S. population into the state of California.  I have been in 2 big cities, and they are quiet.  It is not a crowded feeling.  Space, property and nature are precious commodities.

Children are everywhere, but strollers are not.  Seems as though folks walk and ride bikes.  As a matter of fact, the few cries I've heard have been from children that can't quite keep up or are testing the waters to see if mom or dad will whisk them away.  Inevitably, parents continue their journey and the kids scamper along to catch up with the universal cry of "Hey! Wait for me!"  Nick and Ben, I think of you often.  The smiles of the children here remind me of what great smiles I am related to back in the U.S.A.

I am excited to watch the U20 team play in the first match.  Over the last year and a half, the players have grown together to become one.  I can sense their excitement but yesterday seemed to be the day they collectively portrayed "WHEN ARE WE GOING PLAY ALREADY?!!!"

Coaches Steve Swanson & April Heinrichs 
My former teammate on the 1991 USA team and Director of Youth National Teams,  April Heinrichs reminded the team that the time to prepare has ended.  The time to perform is upon us. Not sure about the team, but I got goose bumps!

In the midst of all the training and tryouts and tournaments and seasons and dreams and goals and games, I am not sure these players have ever been told to stop preparing.   enjoy the fact and  to..... to PLAY.

There is no turning back and that is a good thing. The U20 WNT is excited to have the world watch.

Congratulations to the Huskies after the 2-0 win over Seattle U.  
Dawgs, Yeah! 
Gametracker... Boooooooo! 
Husky Purple

Nick and Ben, thank you for allowing me this opportunity.