The night the 'Sports Doctor' was 'Coach O'Brien'
Norwich — Famous doctors in sports are nothing new —Dr. J, Dock Ellis, Doc Medich, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Doc Emrick and Doc Gooden among them — but we never really had one here in our corner of the world until the evolution of GameDay.
And now our foray into livestreaming high school sports has produced the local celebrity known as the Sports Doctor, beloved color commentator Keith O'Brien, who has expanded his practice this summer, moving from the booth to the sidelines.
O'Brien is coaching East Lyme in the local high school summer league, a presentation of NFA coach Dave Cornish, who cares enough to make sure the kids have an offseason outlet.
There was a biggie Wednesday night in the league at Summit Fitness and Sports, the revival of The Rivalry between Waterford and East Lyme. And so while regular coaches Jeff Bernardi and Bill Bassett were forced to watch from the sidelines — a function of the comatose CIAC and its refusal to adopt out-of-season coaching protocols — it was O'Brien and the Vikings against former four-time ECC championship coach Dan Spellman and the Lancers.
GameDay took the opportunity to affix a microphone to the Sports Doctor for his musings during the game, the full video of which can be seen on theday.com.
"Keith reached out to me and asked if we had a summer league coach," Bernardi said. "I think he misses it. Doing GameDay kind of gave him that bug a little bit. We have a good relationship and I think he really likes the East Lyme kids."
And the East Lyme kids like him.
"He's a charismatic guy," East Lyme senior Riley Walsh said. "Energetic, always trying to get us hyped up. We appreciate that. He's positive no matter what."
Full disclosure: Between your humble narrator and GameDay play-by-play voice Casey O'Neill, we pretty much heard every word the Doctor said during the game. Our goal was to make as much fun of him as possible.
"It's all about you, Sports Doctor," Casey told him before the game. "My goal tonight is to make you cry."
But the truth? O'Brien has this effortless way of connecting with the kids, evidenced by his sunny demeanor during a 40-35 win for the Vikings.
The Doctor took a timeout three minutes into the scoreless game and yelled over to Spellman, lamenting how they both should have bet the under. Spellman, too, had some fun, not long after Walsh made three straight threes for East Lyme. Spellman: "I thought you said your team couldn't score."
The game got more interesting in the second half. Spellman hated what he was seeing from his team, raising the decibel level in protest. O'Brien wanted a call and hollered to the officials, "no foul with all that bumping and grinding going on?"
As the game got closer, O'Brien playfully told the refs Spellman was out of the coach's box. With 10 seconds left and East Lyme up one, Rowan Mundell went to the free throw line for a one-and-one.
Bernardi, watching from the opposite sideline, began pacing. (So much for how it's "only" summer league.) The Doctor wheeled around and said, "this is high drama!" Mundell made the shots and the Vikings won. Nights like this make you realize again how Waterford-East Lyme could draw a crowd for a chess match.
"I'd like to think we're just as competitive against everyone else," Walsh said, "but it's probably not true. They definitely bring something out in me when we play them. I know it's summer league. But we were fired up."
To the delight of their summer coach.
O'Brien had done some coaching at Bacon Academy and Tourtellotte in his previous life. But that's when he was only Keith O'Brien. Now he's the Sports Doctor. From the booth, asking questions of coaches, to the sidelines, asking questions of officials about all that bumping and grinding. Tremendous.
"He takes it seriously," Bernardi said. "He likes to encourage the kids, get them excited and coach them up a little bit. We're not running set plays. He just wants the kids to compete."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro