By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
As the lead sports columnist at the New York Post, Mike Vaccaro provides his takes on the New York City sports landscape nearly every day.
His opinions on teams like the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets may often represent the views of the regular fan, but Vaccaro’s rooting interests have faded due to his writing career.
All rooting interests except for one, that is.
Outside of the newspaper, especially on Twitter, Vaccaro is one of the most visible St. Bonaventure basketball fans you’ll find. His “Unfurl” tweets, which reference the old SBU fight song “Unfurl the Brown and White,” are staples after Bona victories.
After tough losses, like the defeat the Bonnies suffered at La Salle on Feb. 17, “Vac” captures the basketball-rooting community’s thoughts once again, tweeting about how “it’s good to care about something so deeply” despite them breaking his heart once again.
A 1989 graduate, Vaccaro chose to attend Bonaventure because it provided him with the three things he was looking for in a university: a good mass communication program, a small student body and Division I basketball.
When he was in school, the team was mostly mediocre, the highlight being a 15-win season in ’85-’86; the year after, it went 5-23.
Despite the poor performances, he was impressed with how much energy the fans still brought to the Reilly Center. In his junior year, the team gave top-ranked Temple everything it could handle before falling in the final minute. He described a 94-93 win over Penn State as “easily the loudest I have ever heard the RC in my years as a student.”
After graduation, Vaccaro’s first job was covering the team for the Olean Times Herald. It was far from a glamorous position at the time, as the team went into a tailspin, going 22-62 in a three-year span. The program’s deterioration under coach Tom Chapman was a rapid one.
“I know things got bad post-(2003) scandal under Anthony Solomon but I would argue things have never been worse, or more hopeless, than during the Chapman era,” Vaccaro said.
“We would still travel with the team in those days, so I had to write my stories on the team bus, sitting a seat behind Chapman the whole way, including a column where I just crushed him.” he recalled. “Better, I had to ask him to have the bus pull over so I could find a pay phone to send the stories back to the office. That was… awkward.”
Today, with no beat responsibilities, Vaccaro is an unabashed, die-hard fan of his alma mater. With all of the Atlantic 10’s TV tie-ins, he is able to watch almost every game on Slingbox and other streaming services, even with his busy schedule. While he isn’t able to see every second of every game, he follows as closely as he can.
He can’t root for the New York sports teams he loved growing up, but SBU provides an outlet for him to retain some fandom.
“Whatever passion I used to have for the Knicks and the Mets and the Jets is now exclusively channeled to the Bonnies, for better or worse. And honestly? I’m grateful for that, because it’s important for me to retain an understanding of why fans are the way they are, why they care so much, why they’re so involved and invested. The Bonnies make sure I’ll never be completely detached and aloof from those feelings.”
As long as St. John’s basketball doesn’t make a deep run in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Vaccaro will be in attendance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch his Bonnies in the A-10 Tournament. He was in the house to watch the team battle St. Joe’s in Rochester last week and says it reminds him of the 2000 team that received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
No matter how much he accomplishes in his professional life, Vaccaro’s Bona experience remains special.
“I just had such a positive experience there. I know college is the best years of a lot of lives but it really was for me,” Vaccaro said. “The basketball team is an obvious outlet for me but I’m just as passionate when trying to spread the message to prospective students.
“Just last week I had dinner with a high school senior who’s decided to attend Bona, and I told him I’d switch places with him in a heartbeat. That’s how great my college experience was — academically, socially, spiritually, professionally.”
“And yeah,” he concluded, “The hoops team too. “